David Cameron’s opposition to the release of the Lockerbie bomber is plain. But he has a more nuanced position on Tony Blair’s deal to bring Gaddafi in from the cold.
Cameron is privately rather relieved he was spared having to take the decision. From his public statements, it seems he backs the principle behind the pact. But in hindsight he thinks Blair gave a bit too much away.
Cameron says it was “correct to encourage the giving up of weapons of mass destruction, but more parameters should have been put on the relationship”. In other words, this was a problem of execution, not principle. Cameron would have done business with Gaddafi on the right terms.
Now, beyond the Lockerbie issue, what does Cameron see as the shortcomings? He offered his fullest explanation in the Commons on Monday:
If we look at the whole terms of the deal done in the desert, we need to ask ourselves some serious questions about how widely it went and what sort of equipment was involved.
In short, the arms embargo was lifted to early. Given the mayhem we’re witnessing in Libya, this is not a hard conclusion to arrive at. But it does run against the grain of Cameron’s instincts, which are to promote trade and defence sales. If we don’t sell arms to Libya, a less scrupulous countries will — or so the logic goes.
Given the lessons he has drawn from the deal in the desert, Cameron has two options. He will either now adjust his foreign policy to adopt a more cautious approach to selling arms to dictators. Or he will stick to his instincts and just hope that he’s never put in the same position as Blair.