Friday, 29 May 2015

The Blair-Gaddafi deal in the desert

[It was on this date in 2007 that the “deal in the desert” was concluded between Prime Minister Tony Blair and Colonel Gaddafi at a meeting in Sirte. This was embodied in a “memorandum of understanding” that provided, amongst other things, for a prisoner transfer agreement to be drawn up. In later years UK Government ministers, particularly Justice Secretary Jack Straw, sought to argue either (i) that the prisoner transfer element of the deal was not intended to apply to Abdelbaset Megrahi or (ii) that if it was intended to cover him, all parties appreciated that the decision on transfer would be one for the Scottish Government not the UK Government. Here is what I wrote about that on this blog:]

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.

“Among the Libyan officials with whom I discussed this matter at the time were Abdulati al-Obeidi, Moussa Koussa and Abdel Rahman Shalgam.”

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