Shut the Libyan British Business Council down
When this group claims to have discovered its human rights alter ego in Libya we should reject it – it’s business first all the way
As large numbers of Libyans try to rid themselves of Gaddafi, the British political class all seem to agree: the support of pro-democracy movements in Libya is paramount, while Gaddafi can only be understood as a murderous butcher, a madman, a dictator, a tyrant and someone who is willing to kill en masse to stay in power. It is quite a remarkable about turn. Until three months ago, one might have had the impression that Gaddafi – while slightly whacky – was an integral player in our grand “war on terror” and, crucially, a valuable business partner.
After all, who can forget our own Tony Blair schmoozing with the colonelin a Bedouin tent in 2004, calling Libya’s renunciation of WMD as “extraordinary” and describing the regime as a linchpin for “security” in the region. Together with his new mate, Blair was going to fight al-Qaida; and indeed the colonel has held his side of the bargain by trying to murder al-Qaida followers on LSD, so he tells us.
But apparently that is no longer the right thing to do. Oh-so-outraged by the sudden epiphany that Gaddafi might be quite a horrible fellow, politicians and businessmen alike now speak of Rwanda and Srebrenica in an attempt to disavow their previous views on Libya.
The Libyan British Business Council (LBBC) advocates on its website“building business bridges with Libya”. This is not a motto that has been devised since the rebellion; it has been its guiding principle since its founding in 2004 – the “great year of rehabilitation”. Eager to present itself as humanitarian, the LBBC’s homepage now tells us that it has launched the “Libya aid fund” in order to “provide humanitarian aid to the victims of the violence in Libya”. How considerate. It is also slightly odd considering the LBBC explicitly states that it works and maintains close links with “Libya’s government ministries and departments and other official bodies and agencies, many of which are responsible for some of the most important commercial contracts available to international firms”. The very organisation that has promoted Blair’s Gaddafi rehabilitation policy now expresses its shock at Gaddafi’s actions, which are entirely consistent with his 42-year rule.
The chairman of the LBBC, hereditary Tory peer Lord Trefgarne, was one of the key figures in pushing for Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s early release. Writing to Scottish justice minister Kenny MacAskill in July and August 2009, he made it clear that al-Megrahi should be released “for humanitarian reasons” and to protect the interests of LBBC Scottish members and others.
The LBBC also represents big oil companies such as Shell and BP – which in 2007 established a $900m (£450m) gas exploration deal with Gaddafi – as well as banking groups such as HSBC, Barclays and JP Morgan Chase which, of course, have Blair as their £2m a year adviser.
Despite those front-page references to humanitarian aid on its homepage, the LBBC stands quite firm by its Gaddafiphilia. Under the subheading Why Libya, we learn of the present regime that “[s]ince 1999, when the UN security council suspended more than a decade of sanctions, Libya’s image has changed dramatically. And as it pursues a policy of diversifying its income away from oil and gas, it is attracting more foreign interest than ever before.” There is no ironic emoticon here to break the tension. The LBBC (and by extension the businesses it represents) still tries to uphold the myth of a good Gaddafi – it’s just tucked away behind the solemn proclamations of humanitarianism.
This should come as no surprise. What was started under Blair, continued under Brown and is taken to its logical conclusion under Cameron-Clegg: the increasing guiding principle for British foreign policy is to put business first.
Last October, Alistair Burt, Tory MP and foreign office minister for the Middle East and north Africa, addressed the LBBC, praising its efforts in strengthening ties with Libya which in turn “want[s] to strengthen ties with us in many other areas including … defence”. The LBBC has always supported this. In a dossier from November 2008, the LBBC outlined the areas of interest to the organisation and its partners: “Libya’s defence equipment aged with the international sanctions imposed on Libya from 1992 to 2003 and is therefore being renewed on a large scale … France and [the] UK are also actively involved in Libya’s rearmament process.” The very materials, weapons and infrastructure that are now being decried as murderous and destroyed in the name of humanitarianism, were delivered to Libya by government-endorsed British business.
So it seems what Gaddafi needed was twofold: an image-lift and material, including arms, to become a truly normal business partner. It was only the very recent unrest in the region that has thrown a spanner in the works.
When our political class tells us that it is concerned about Libyans’ human rights and that the intervention has been undertaken for humanitarian grounds, they are lying. When our business elite, such as the LBBC, discover their humanitarian alter ego, we should reject them entirely. What the UK needs is a thorough period of soul-searching and purging of sorts. The LBBC, as a professional body, is utterly untenable in a society that calls and thinks