Wednesday, 14 October 2009

“Farcical scenes” as Baroness Kinnock axed from Lords post immediately after pledging to investigate Megrahi pressure

[This is the headline over a report on the website of Scottish lawyers' magazine The Firm. It reads as follows.]

Labour Peer Baroness Kinnock has been unexpectedly replaced in her post as Europe minister, only hours after pledging to investigate whether Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was pressured into dropping his ongoing appeal against conviction before being transferred to Libya.

The Scottish Government had denied any pressure had been applied, but the coincidental timing of the dropping of the appeal has been widely perceived as being linked to Megrahi’s transfer.

In a debate in the House of Lords on Monday Lord Lester of Herne Hill said he was “very concerned about the circumstances in which Megrahi was persuaded to drop his appeal and to go and die in Libya.”

“I saw him in Barlinnie myself. I would like to know, and I would like the Government to find out whether, when he was visited in prison, it was made clear to him that if he dropped his appeal he would be allowed to go and die in Libya, so that there would then be no appeal and the relatives—Dr Swire and the others—would never know the truth,” he said.

“I would therefore like an assurance that there was no quid pro quo and no pressure put upon him. The Government may not know the answer, but they should find out. Was any pressure put on Megrahi that he would be sent to die in Libya only if he dropped the appeal?”

Baroness Kinnock said in response that she was “not aware of what the answer might be,” but would ask for advice and respond.

Within hours, Kinnock had been replaced amid what the Daily Mail described as “farcical scenes” as her replacement, junior minister Chris Bryant “broke with protocol and announced his new role on the Twitter website before Downing Street or the Foreign Office had a chance to issue a statement.”

The Firm has asked the Prime Minister’s office to confirm whether Kinnock’s sacking is connected to responses to questions raised about Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi. So far Baroness Kinnock’s removal has been dismissed as “housekeeping” by the Prime Minister’s spokesman.

[The Firm's e-mailed query to 10 Downing Street reads:]

The Firm is reporting on yesterday's dismissal of Baroness Kinnock from her post as Europe minister in the Lords. The dismissal came only hours after she replied to a question raised by Lord Lester of Herne Hill, which she undertook to respond to.

Lord Lester asked if Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi had been pressured to drop his appeal against conviction in order to be assured of his return home to Libya to die.

Could the Prime Minister confirm if Baroness Kinnock's dismissal is connected to her pledge to answer this question?

Will her successor Chris Bryant return to the Lords to provide an answer to the question?

[Here is The Firm's report on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's answer to its query.]

FCO says no link between Kinnock "reallocation" and Megrahi answers

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office have moved to refute any link between the dismissal of Baroness Kinnock from her European portfolio in the House of Lords on Monday, and her pledge the same day to investigate whether Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was pressured into dropping his ongoing appeal against conviction before being transferred to Libya.

The FCO told the Firm "the suggestion that Baroness Kinnock has been dismissed or demoted is patent nonsense."

“Ministerial portfolios in the Foreign Office have been reallocated, following Lord Malloch Brown's departure at the beginning of the summer.”

The Firm pressed the FCO to explain why in that case no announcement had been made at the beginning of the summer. An FCO press officer said that the announcement had only been made orally “at the Lobby” on Monday morning, and no written statement announcing Baroness Kinnock’s “reallocation” had been produced or distributed to the media.

They confirmed that Kinnock remains responsible for all FCO business in the Lords and will respond to Lord Lester's question “in the normal way“. Lord Lester had asked for an assurance that no pressure had been put upon Megrahi that he would be sent to die in Libya only if he dropped his appeal.

The Press Secretary to the Foreign Secretary Daid Milliband told The Firm that neither the timing nor the contents of the change in Kinnock’s role, described as ”internal housekeeping“ was “in any way related to anything Baroness Kinnock said in the Lords on Monday afternoon.”

“The change in Minister for Europe took place and was announced before the comments you report in the Lords. Any suggestion to the contrary is factually untrue," he added.

1 comment:

  1. The Firm seems to be somewhat confused. Lady Kinnock has not been dismissed: her FCO ministerial responsibility for Europe has simply been swapped for Africa, Asia and the United Nations.

    The importance of Glenys Kinnock's new UN responsibility becomes apparent when it is realised that she founded a charity on 21 December 1989 in memory of the most prominent victim of the 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 crash - UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson ( ).

    In September 2009, former Labour MEP Michael McGowan called for an urgent independent inquiry led by the United Nations into the Lockerbie disaster. McGowan wrote that he was personally affected by the crash:

    "As President of the Development Committee of the European Parliament, I had invited Bernt Carlsson, the Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and UN Commissioner for Namibia, to call in at Brussels in December 1988. He was on his way back to the United States from Namibia and agreed to address members of the Development Committee, which he did. In Brussels, he spoke about his hopes for an independent Namibia and the end of apartheid in South Africa to a packed meeting of MEPs.

    "And afterwards he confirmed his acceptance to visit Leeds the following year to give the 1989 Peace Lecture in honour of Olof Palme, the former Swedish Prime Minister, who was murdered in Stockholm on February 26, 1986. He said how much he was looking forward to coming to Leeds to pay tribute to his fellow Swede with whom he had worked closely as international secretary of the Social Democratic Party of Sweden, and also as a special adviser to Palme. Bernt Carlsson did not make that visit to Leeds in 1989. He was a passenger on Pan Am Flight 103 and he died when the plane was blown up over Lockerbie on December 21, 1988. He was a giant of diplomacy, gentle, quiet, but a tough negotiator. His death, like that of his friend and fellow Swede, Prime Minister Palme, who was murdered in the street in Stockholm returning with his wife from a night at the cinema, was the result of a terrorist act and remains a mystery.

    "A call by the British Government for an independent inquiry led by the United Nations to find out the truth about Pan Am flight 103 is urgently required. We owe it to the families of the victims of Lockerbie and the international community to identify those responsible. That Bernt Carlsson was on that plane should be an extra incentive for the UN to take action in view of the fact that this impressive diplomat was dealing with some of the most sensitive and violent situations being perpetrated by the brutal apartheid regime in both South Africa and Namibia, besides his work in the Middle East. The best tribute to the lives and families of the 270 victims of Lockerbie, including Bernt Carlsson, and the most positive action for the international community to take against terrorism, is to launch an independent inquiry into this gross act of mass murder. Nothing less will suffice."
    ( )

    A petition calling for a UN Inquiry into Bernt Carlsson's murder in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing is open for signature until 28 January 2010 ( ).