Thursday, 28 January 2010

Straw says Holyrood not gratuitously kept in the dark over Megrahi deal

[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of The Herald. It reads in part:]

Jack Straw said Holyrood was “not gratuitously kept in the dark” about the UK Government’s dealings with Libya over the Prisoner Transfer Agreement in relation to the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.

Giving evidence to the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee, the UK Justice Secretary was asked by the SNP’s Pete Wishart if it would not have been helpful for London to have kept Edinburgh informed about the agreement being drawn up with Tripoli.

Mr Straw said: “Where you are involved in complicated negotiations with a country like Libya, they have to be handled with great confidentiality.”

However, he went on: “We had no interest whatever in keeping the Scottish Executive gratuitously in the dark about this.” Mr Straw pointed out that no PTA gave the Libyan government or Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi a right to transfer, only a right to make an application.

“The Libyans absolutely understood that the discretion in respect... of any PTA application rested with the Scottish Executive.”

Ben Wallace, the deputy shadow Scottish Secretary, pressed Mr Straw on why he was “blocking” the release of the note about two phone calls he took from Sir Mark Allen, a BP consultant.

“It’s odd a man from BP rings you up, the position changes, an oil deal is signed and nowhere in the process is the victim included.”

Mr Straw replied that no promise or hint was given to Libya that in return for an bilateral arrangement, Mr Megrahi would be released.

[According to Jack Straw "the Libyans understood that the discretion in respect of any PTA application rested with the Scottish Executive." This is not so. In meetings that I had with Libyan officials at the highest level shortly after the "deal in the desert" it was abundantly clear that the Libyans believed that the UK Government could order the transfer of Mr Megrahi and that they were prepared to do so. When I told them that the relevant powers rested with the Scottish -- not the UK -- Government, they simply did not believe me. When they eventually realised that I had been correct, their anger and disgust with the UK Government was palpable. As I have said elsewhere:

"The memorandum of understanding regarding prisoner transfer that Tony Blair entered into in the course of the "deal in the desert" in May 2007, and which paved the way for the formal prisoner transfer agreement, was intended by both sides to lead to the rapid return of Mr Megrahi to his homeland. This was the clear understanding of Libyan officials involved in the negotiations and to whom I have spoken.

"It was only after the memorandum of understanding was concluded that [it belatedly sunk in] that the decision on repatriation of this particular prisoner was a matter not for Westminster and Whitehall but for the devolved Scottish Government in Edinburgh, and that government had just come into the hands of the Scottish National Party and so could no longer be expected supinely to follow the UK Labour Government's wishes. That was when the understanding between the UK Government and the Libyan Government started to unravel, to the considerable annoyance and distress of the Libyans, who had been led to believe that repatriation under the PTA was only months away."]


  1. The SNP formed a minority administration following the Election of the 3rd May 2007 gaining 47 seats to the labour parties 46. This was in advance of the "deal in the desert" of the 30th May 2007 (which presumably had been negotiated in advance by officials - see "Yes Prime Minister").

    Perhaps Mr Blair did not think that the 2007 election changed the circumstances of the PTA or was reluctant to inform his hosts of the consequences of devolution.

  2. I think, in his arrogance of power Mr Blair was simply not any more aware that there still were laws to be followed.

  3. Will Mr Blair be quizzed about the "deal in the desert" at the Chilcot inquiry tomorrow, I wonder?

  4. Mr Blair's comments on Libya were confined to the Libyans giving up WMD, specifically their nuclear programme in late 2003, as a consequence of the invasion of Iraq and presumably as a vindication of US-British policy on proliferation post 9/11.

    Mr Straw's comments seem a little disengenuous. Obviously the Libyans did not want to exclude Mr Megrahi from the agreement for the agreement was about Mr Megrahi specifically and the Libyan side thought the PTA was what it said it was - a Prisoner Transfer Agreement.

    p.s.I was saddened to see two brave Iranians were executed for "waging war against God" (i.e.challenging a rigged election.) Is this an example of "Iranian jurisprudence"?

  5. baz said...
    "...two brave Iranians were executed for 'waging war against God' (i.e.challenging a rigged election.) Is this an example of 'Iranian jurisprudence'?"

    Sad if true indeed. But beware trusting the press in anything about Iran, as well as in anything about Lockerbie.

    The Guacis are not the only one profiting from telling a story somebody likes to hear.

    Those interested in painting occupied Iraq in happy colors are the same as those who'd like to drum up public support for "liberating" Iran too.

    Old joke from Russia

    - Comrade, the train is not running.
    - It's a conspiracy! Shoot the train staff.
    - Comrade, we shot all the train staff but the train is still not running.
    - We made a mistake! Let's rehabilitate the train staff.
    - Comrade, we have now rehabilitated the train staff but the train is still not running.
    - (sigh) Drag down all curtains, and make sure that everybody is told about how fast and smooth the train now runs.

    (I never thought the joke was that funny. Probably the Russians and now the Iraqis will feel the same way.)