Saturday, 14 February 2015

At best disingenuous, at worst an outright lie

What follows is taken from an item originally posted on this blog on this date in 2008:

Jack Straw, Lord Chancellor and Minister of Justice in the United Kingdom Government (and Foreign Secretary at the time of the Libya-UK prisoner transfer negotiations) has a letter published today in The Herald denying that any deal has been done with Libya regarding the repatriation of Abdelbaset Megrahi. A prisoner transfer agreement has been concluded with Libya, from which Megrahi is not specifically excluded, but any decision on whether he will benefit under it rests with the Scottish Government. [RB: The letter itself is no longer to be found on The Herald’s website. However, the coverage of the story on the BBC News website can be accessed here.]

None of what Mr Straw says is in any way controversial. But it avoids the issue: what were the Libyans led to expect and believe when the UK Foreign Office was negotiating the agreement; and why was the Scottish Government (host to the only Libyan prisoner in Britain about whom Libya is in any way concerned) kept in the dark? These issues are dealt with in earlier posts on this blog. See

[RB: The second of these items contains the following passage:]

The truth of the matter is this. The UK Foreign Office (and officials in the office of the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair) entered into negotiations with Libya for a reciprocal prisoner transfer agreement. Both sides were perfectly well aware that the only Libyan prisoner in a British jail about whom the Libyans had the slightest concern was Megrahi. The Libyan negotiators believed, rightly believed, and were known by the UK negotiators to believe that the agreement they were drafting would cover Megrahi. The London Government did not have the courtesy to inform the Scottish Government (which is responsible for prisons and prisoners in Scotland) that these negotiations were taking place. When the Scottish Government found out about them and complained to the UK Government, the latter announced that (a) the proposed agreement was not intended to cover Megrahi and (b) even if it were, the final decision on the transfer of any Libyan prisoner in a Scottish jail would rest with the Scottish Government. The latter proposition was and is correct. The former was not: it was at best disingenuous and at worst (and probably more accurately) an outright lie.


  1. A little more by way of explanation from Jim Swire and Peter Biddulph:-

    As back-channel negotiations proceeded with Libya, Straw reversed direction. He told MacAskill: "I had previously accepted the importance of the Al-Megrahi issue to Scotland and said I would try to get an exclusion of him on the face of the agreement. I have not been able to secure an explicit exclusion."

    Straw did not indicate where the resistance had come from. Did it come from within the British government, or was pressure coming from Libya with threats of withdrawal from the BP oil agreement?

    Or, perhaps, had Straw really tried at all? He continued with the bomb-shell: "The wider negotiations with the Libyans are reaching a critical stage and, in view of the overwhelming interests for the United Kingdom, I have agreed that the [Prisoner Transfer Agreement] should be in the standard form and not mention any individual." In other words, since it did not exclude Al-Megrahi, then it could include him if the two sides agreed that it should.

    To counter the furore, Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a special point of interrupting a visit to a school to claim, on television, that there had been "No deal, and no private assurances by me." The important words were “by me”. He knew that assurances had been given by Straw and his officials. The old techniques of nuance in the message were there, just as they had been way back when Straw, with weasel words, refused to grant an inquiry.

    On 5th February 2009 Straw seemingly cleared the matter up entirely. In an interview given to the Daily Telegraph, he admitted that his original requirement of Libya was that the PTA would only be agreed by Britain if Al-Megrahi was excluded. But following a warning by British Petroleum that failure to include Al-Megrahi could hurt BP's Libyan interests, Straw capitulated. "Yes. It was a very big part of that. I'm unapologetic about that. Libya was a rogue state. Trade is an essential part of it, and subsequently there was the BP deal."

    We should note here that within three years, in 2012, Straw and his head of MI6 Counter-terrorism Sir Mark Allen would be shown to be implicated in secret deals with Gaddafi, his head of security Moussa Koussa, and the CIA, for the illegal apprehension and rendition for torture and interrogation of selected Libyan dissidents and their families. It would prove to be a poisonous aspect of British foreign policy which our so-called democratic government remain desperate to conceal from press and public.

    1. I had many meetings with the Libyan officials who negotiated the prisoner transfer agreement. They were adamant that at no time did the UK side seek to have Megrahi excluded; nor did the UK side stress (or even mention) that the decision on release was one for the Scottish Government. I was the one who informed the Libyan Government of this -- and they were highly reluctant to believe me.