Sunday, 7 June 2015

Downing Street disinformation

[What follows is excerpted from a report published on the BBC News website on this date in 2007:]

The UK Government has published details of a deal struck with Libya on prisoner exchange, which it insists does not cover the Lockerbie bomber's case.

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond had voiced concern at Holyrood that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi could be transferred back to a jail in Libya.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said no deal had been signed over the future of al-Megrahi. (...)

The memorandum of understanding with Libya was signed last week by Mr Blair during a trip to the country. It was created on 29 May.

It states that the two sides will shortly "commence negotiations" on prisoner transfer, extradition and mutual assistance in criminal law, with a final deal signed within 12 months.

It will be based on a "model agreement" that, according to the document, has already been hammered out.

Mr Salmond had demanded clarification from the UK Government about al-Megrahi's case and made an emergency statement at Holyrood on Thursday.

He said that "at no stage" was the Scottish government made aware of the memorandum, despite the deal being struck on 29 May.

Addressing MSPs, he said: "I have today written to the prime minister expressing my concern that it was felt appropriate for the UK government to sign such a memorandum on matters clearly devolved to Scotland, without any opportunity for this government and indeed this parliament to contribute." (...)

He added that while the Scottish Executive supported the UK Government's desire for better relations with Libya, the lack of consultation with Holyrood over the memorandum was "clearly unacceptable".

"This government is determined that decisions on any individual case will continue to be made following the due process of Scots law," the first minister said.

A Downing Street statement said: "There is a legal process currently under way in Scotland reviewing this case which is not expected to conclude until later this summer.

"Given that, it is totally wrong to suggest the we have reached any agreement with the Libyan Government in this case.

"The memorandum of understanding agreed with the Libyan Government last week does not cover this case." (...)

Opposition politicians in Scotland condemned the lack of consultation with the Scottish government.

Labour leader Jack McConnell said: "As former first minister I would have expected and demanded no less than prior consultation on such a memorandum.

"Scottish ministers, as far as I understand the letter of the law, have an absolute veto over prison transfers. I want to know if this memorandum contradicts that in any way."

[RB: Here is something previously written by me on this matter:]

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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