Lord Empey says comments from a senior Foreign Office minister have convinced him that “a secret deal” was done between the Blair government and Libya which is still frustrating efforts by IRA victims to secure compensation for their injuries and losses.
“There is something rotten going on here,” he told the News Letter. “It stinks.”
The UUP peer was speaking after Minister of State for the Middle East at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Alistair Burt, was grilled by MPs on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) on claims of a ‘secret deal’ on Tuesday.
They also asked what government has been doing to secure compensation for UK victims since the MPs published a report last year; it roasted successive governments for failing to secure compensation for victims of Libya-IRA terror attacks, just as US, French and German governments had long since done for their own citizens.
In the hearing Mr Burt said:
• He was “disappointed” that he had no significant progress to report to the MPs on compensation;
• The government had now reverted to its position prior to the committee’s report – and now holds once again that government’s role is to facilitate victims, not pressurise Libya;
• He was not aware of government ever having investigated journalistic claims that Tony Blair’s government sealed secret trade deals with Libya as part of its international rehabilitation.
UUP peer Lord Empey said: “With regard to the Select Committee meeting [on Tuesday], I was appalled at the attitude of the government. They have gone right back to square one, requiring individuals to take their own legal cases [against Libya]. This is grossly irresponsible and heartless of the government.”
When serving as foreign secretary, Boris Johnson had begun to signal that he was going to press Libya to settle the compensation, he noted. But now the government has reverted to washing its hands of the matter, he said.
“I have always believed that there was a secret deal between the Blair government and Libya. The responses at the Select Committee reinforce my view that this is the case. There is something rotten going on here. It stinks.”
The shadow of Tony Blair hung heavily over the committee hearing.
North Down MP Sylvia Hermon told Mr Burt that “somewhere there is something that is not right” adding that she could not help but feel he was being prevented from doing “what you would actually like to do”. The issue goes “right back to Tony Blair” she added.
Committee chairman Andrew Murrison put it to Mr Burt that “the suspicion remains that some sort of deal was hatched between that regime – Tony Blair’s – and the Gaddafi authorities; that kind of lingers”.
He noted that they had quizzed Mr Burt about the matter for their 2017 report. So he asked if he had made any progress with investigating claims about “secret deals hatched between the then government and Col Gaddafi in relation to investment in this country”.
Labour MP Kate Hoey chipped in with “in the tent” – a reference to claims that secret Libya-UK oil deals were signed in a tent in the Libyan desert.
Mr Burt stuttered repeatedly and said he had not been briefed to answer such questions, but Mr Murrison responded that they had quizzed him on this before and that he was “a little bit surprised” that he came back to them with no answers.
The minister responded that he was not aware of any government investigation into the matter but added: “... I will make sure one goes out to the best of our ability.”
Meanwhile, south Armagh victims’ advocate William Frazer last night raised questions about the same issue. “I am calling on the UK government to publish the details of any such trade agreements,” he said.
Col Gaddafi provided vast amount of money, weapons and Semtex to the IRA. His regime went on to pay compensation to US, German and French citizens targeted by Libyan-sponsored terror attacks. However, for reasons which have never been completely clear, all efforts by UK victims to secure compensation have so far failed.
Some £13bn of assets linked to the Gaddafi regime are currently frozen in the UK by the United Nations.