The uprising in Libya has spread and deepened across the country. As Socialist Worker goes to press Muammar Gaddafi is only just holding onto the capital Tripoli, and threatens a bloody counter- attack against rebels.
British politicians have been falling over themselves to condemn him—but Britain’s links with his regime are deep.
The government did not refuse a single arms export licence request from Libya during 2010—and that included approving sniper rifles.
The Campaign Against the Arms Trade has revealed that in the last quarter of 2010, Britain approved exports to Libya of “wall and door breaching projectile launchers, crowd control ammunition, small arms ammunition, tear gas/irritant ammunition, training tear gas/irritant ammunition.”
An RAF Hercules transport plane flew into Libya to pick up stranded British oil workers.
The Sun newspaper proudly reported that SAS troops were on board and they opened fire while on the ground.
There is some dispute over whether anyone returned fire, but if they did they probably used British ammunition.
Britain sold Libya £3.2 million of ammunition in the last quarter of 2010.
Outrage at repression in Libya is making the headlines.
At the same time defence secretary Liam Fox said the government was reviewing criteria to ensure the “right balance” is struck between the right of countries to protect themselves and a duty to ensure “that what we do supply is not being used for internal repression”.
British links are not just in the fields of “defence” and oil extraction. More than 150 British firms operate in Libya, including British Airways and Marks & Spencer.
Lord Trefgarne, chair of the Libyan British Business Council, said, “Trading with Britain is not a prize we award to nice nations who we like and admire. It’s part and parcel of our whole life.”
In an earlier life Trefgarne was a minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government working in trade and defence.
He was criticised by the 1996 Scott inquiry for withholding information about the secret relaxation of the guidelines for arms sales to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
But while most are rushing to hide their links with Libya, others want to keep channels open. Tony Blair, who pioneered Gaddafi’s rehabilitation in the West when he visited Libya in 2004, called twice last week to try and get him to stop attacks on civilians.
He was ignored.
Blair is currently a consultant to JP Morgan, the US bank that helps invest the £40 billion assets of the state-run Libyan Investment Authority.
Peter Mandelson knows Gaddafi’s son Saif and worried about his recent performance on TV, where he threatened to shoot down protesters.
Mandelson said, “I’d rather have had a couple of minutes with him beforehand to say that you know this sort of performance in a very clumsy and ham-fisted way is not going to get you anywhere.”