Foreign policy

Jim Pickard

So far there has been a solid display of cross-party unity over the military action in Libya, designed to save the lives of rebels in the east of the north African country. The Labour leadership is firmly behind the coalition on its swift action in maintaining a no-fly zone and protecting Libyan citizens.

But this afternoon’s ongoing debate - it began at 3.30pm and will last six hours - has shown that the consensus is not quite as firm as it might appear at first glance. Instead, having talked to MPs in private, and having watched the first few hours of the debate, I would say the overwhelming feeling is one of pride at the initial intervention but unease about how events will now pan out.

Concerns are shared among MPs of all parties, under these categories:

1] End game. There is concern about the lack of an exit strategy for the Libyan intervention. Does it end with an uprising that extinguishes the Gaddafi regime? Could the country be split into west and east? Could the allies pull out before either side wins? Could this be another Vietnam/Iraq? How does the alliance attack Gaddafi’s troops and tanks – from the air – if they enter suburbs and urban areas. As Dennis Skinner said – in a point accepted by the prime minister – with wars it is “easier to get in than get out“. Or as Emily Thornberry asked: “What would be a successful outcome?” For now the answer of David Cameron – and of a supportive Ed Miliband – it is to uphold the UN resolution which allows the protection of Libyan citizens. That may, in reality, only be phase one.

Rory Stewart, the Tory MP, warned that when you dip your toe into such engagements you can soon become up your neck: ”I think the no-fly zone is the correct thing to do but this is a 20-30 year marathon with a very complicated region,” he said. Read more

Jim Pickard

Hillary Clinton yesterday signalled that a no-fly zone in Libya should be led by the UN rather than by the US. (“I think it’s very important that it is not a US-led effort because this comes from the people of Libya themselves…We think it is important that the United Nations make that decision.”) The secretary of state clearly does not want it to look as if the US is flexing its muscles unilaterally once again.

The British position is slightly more subtle, however. As the Downing St spokesman said this morning at lobby: “Our position is as set out by the foreign secretary statement; it said we needed international support , a clear trigger and an appropriate legal basis.“ Read more

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. Read more

A few weeks ago, we asked one senior British government figure whether the uprisings would spread to the Gulf. There are “no problems” yet, he replied.

The language was revealing (when exactly did Britain see democratic change as a problem?) But it is probably to be expected given Britain’s investment in the preserving the regional status-quo. Read more

Lord Mandelson has never been one to shy away from defending doomed politicians.

But it was still a surprise to see him riding to the support of reformers within the Mubarak regime — not least the president’s son Gamal.

In a fascinating letter to the FT, Mandelson argues that it is too “simplistic” to cast Gamal Mubarak as the “putative beneficiary of a nepotistic transfer of family power, the continuation of ‘tyranny’ with a change of faces at the top”.

He warns that this diverts attention from the hidebound military and intelligence service figures who are really exercising control behind the scenes.

These security forces, he says, have been engaged in a tug of war with Gamal — a man who “has been the leading voice in favour of change within the government and the ruling party”.

An “orderly transition” (did he ever use that phrase about Gordon Brown?) should involve forging an alliance between secular opposition figures and reformers like Gamal in the government, he adds.

The letter is in full below. Well worth a read. I’m not sure how much support it would garner on the streets of Cairo. But it certainly shows that Mandelson still has an appetite for unpopular causes.

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Jo Johnson

How does the world look from Westminster? Foreign policy is woefully under-scrutinised in the UK, where governments can wage war and sign treaties without reference to parliament, and the limited attention it does receive could arguably be better directed.  Read more

Welcome back. The FT’s Westminster team is reporting live on former prime minister Tony Blair’s appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq warThis post will automatically refresh every three minutes,  although it may take longer on mobile devices.

Read our earlier post here.

1411 Details are emerging from the room. The atmosphere was obviously more fraught than it appeared on telly. The mood changed as soon as Blair started talking tough on Iran. People began to fidget more and sigh. Then when Blair expressed regrets about the loss of life in Iraq, a woman shouted: “Well stop trying to kill them.” Two women stood up and walked out; another audience member turned her back on Blair and faced the wall. As Blair began to leave the room, one audience member shouted “It is too late”, another said “he’ll never look us in the eye”. Then Rose Gentle, who lost her son in Iraq,delivered the final blow. “Your lies killed my son,” she said. “I hope you can live with it.”

1402 That’s it folks. We’re winding up. Chilcot has thanked the audience. A calmer and slightly more contrite performance from Tony Blair, but no less assured than his first appearance before the inquiry. The main difference has been the Chilcot panel’s approach — much more detailed questions, much more forensic and at times incredibly boring. They are clearly close to the end of writing the report and are relatively settled on the conclusions, which will not make pleasant reading for Blair. Read more

Jim Pickard

Good morning. The Westminster team is reporting live on former prime minister Tony Blair’s appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war.

12.30: We are now taking another coffee break. Alex will be your host when delivery returns in about 10 minutes’ time. You’ll need to go back to ft.com/westminster and open a new window – ie Iraq inquiry part two.

In the meantime here are some quotes from this morning’s inquiry which will no doubt make the news later.

* Blair told his chief of staff a year before the war with Iraq that the UK “should be gung-ho on Saddam”.

* “Up to September 11, we had been managing this issue. After September 11, we decided we had to confront and change.”

* “There are people who say that extremism can be managed. I personally don’t think that’s true.”

* On his Iraq policy in 2002: “I wasn’t keeping my options open. I was setting out a policy that was very very clear.”

* He said the cabinet was aware of his policy: “Go down UN route, get an ultimatum. If he fails to take the ultimatum, we’re going to be with America on military action.”

* “We were probably the most successful centre left government in the world.”

* “I was raising issues to do with Somalia…the Middle East peace process…Lebanon. My view was that this was all part of one issue, in the end. You couldn’t deal with it sequentially.”

* The nature of Saddam’s regime in Iraq was not a justification for going to war – “but it is why we should be proud to have got rid of him”.

* “I didn’t see September 11 as an attack on America, I saw it as an attack on us – the West. I told George Bush – ‘Whatever the political heat, if I think this is the right thing to do, I’m going to be with you.’”

* “When the military pressure was off, he was going to be back, and with far more money. If we had left Saddam there, I think it’s arguable he might have been developing in competition with Iran.”

12.25: Blair has argued that he wanted to get a majority of the UN security council, even if he could not get unanimous support. Sir Lawrence Freedman asked if Blair stopped the UN weapons inspection process just at the crucial point when it was starting to reap dividends. Blair sidesteps the question, saying Saddam was “back to his old games”. Freedman ponders whether a few more weeks may have made a difference?

Blair says Saddam may have made a few more concessions but his overall stance would not have changed – it was still a mistake to leave the dictator in place, he insists. Read more

Jo Johnson

As it’s prediction season, here goes… My crystal ball, for what it is worth, foretells political and economic union between France and Germany, perhaps within the next 12-24 months. Europe needs a gamechanger, one that creates an insurmountable firebreak against the speculators. Crises have historically been the motor of European integration and a full union, much like the panicky one Britain offered France in June 1940, might look tempting. It would provide for joint organs of defence, foreign, financial and economic policies, finally fulfilling the founding fathers’ dream of “ever closer union”. Read more

Here the FT’s South Asia bureau chief discusses the UK’s aid policy in India. What do you think David Cameron’s government should do? Join the debate in the comments section. Read more

It has been widely noted that David Cameron pinched a soundbite from Gordon Brown in his Guildhall speech on Monday night. Hard-headed internationalism, it seems, is good enough for two British prime ministers. Read more

George W. Bush’s bombastic return to the world stage has reminded me of my favourite Bush anecdote, which for various reasons we couldn’t publish at the time. Some of the witnesses still dine out on it.

The venue was the Oval Office. A group of British dignitaries, including Gordon Brown, were paying a visit. It was at the height of the 2008 presidential election campaign, not long after Bush publicly endorsed John McCain as his successor. Read more

Sir John Sawers, the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, has never been one for the shadows.

While he served as political director at the Foreign Office, his influence was unmistakable on almost all areas of policy — indeed he even earned the nickname “Jonny Blue Eyes” for his dashing diplomacy. Read more

It is now received wisdom in Westminster that Liam Fox emerged victorious from his battle with the Treasury over defence funding.

The official history has David Cameron making a last minute intervention to boost defence spending, particularly for the army. The Treasury were only able to secure cuts of around 8 per cent in real terms, rather than the 10 per cent cuts they were pushing for.

The alternative interpretation is that Fox was short-changed and that this will become clear in the months ahead. The argument runs in two parts: Read more

Jo Johnson

The Commonwealth Games are in crisis and New Delhi wants to know where its friends are. If he wants to show real commitment to the “new special relationship” with India, David Cameron must make sure the English athletics squad turns up all present and correct, with big smiles on their faces. The Scottish team has already announced that it is delaying the departure of its 41 squad members, citing ongoing health and security fears over conditions in the athletes’ village. Now the Welsh have raised the stakes, giving the Delhi organising committee until five o’clock British time this afternoon to provide reassurances – saying that otherwise they might not travel. English officials have said the situation is “on a knife-edge”. Read more

Jim Pickard

It’s not clear when he will do so but the prime minister has promised to make an “early visit” to Pakistan, according to the joint statement from Zardari and Cameron today.

There is also a key line about the “sacrifices” made by Pakistani security forces in fighting violent extremism – which is presumably an attempt to defuse Cameron’s comments last week. (He had said, while in India, that Pakistan should not ‘look both ways’ on terror).

The Prime Minister recognised the sacrifices made by Pakistan’s military, civil law enforcement agencies and people in fighting violent extremism and militancy and appreciated the efforts of the democratic government. Both leaders appreciated the close co-operation that already exists between respective police forces and other security agencies.

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By George Parker, political editor

David Cameron was still glowing last night after his three-hour bonding session with President Obama, who took him on a tour of his personal apartments in the White House as well as the garden: a far cry from the short “brush by” offered to him when he was still leader of the opposition.

In spite of all the pre-meeting efforts to dampen expectations – Cameron wrote that he was not bothered by the “baubles” of the “special relationship” – his team were immediately anxious to tell journalists how well the meeting had gone.

In spite of the little local difficulty over BP, the two leaders joshed about the state of their children’s bedrooms and exchanged gifts: Sam Cameron bought a natty pair of pink and purple Hunter wellies for the Obama children. Read more

By George Parker, political editor

David CameronDavid Cameron likes things to be strong. And he likes things to be stable. How do we know this? Well the prime minister has shown a fondness for using the two adjectives in tandem, not least ahead of his visit to Washington. Read more

Nick Clegg has an uncanny knack of finding agonising dilemmas to solve.

Before Sunday’s World Cup final, he will have to chose between upsetting his mother or his wife.

His formidable wife Miriam González Durántez and the Clegg boys will be backing Spain all the way.

But Clegg of course speaks Dutch, the native tongue of his mother Hermance van den Wall Bake. Read more

When it comes to the inquiry into Britain’s complicity with torture, nothing is ever quite what it seems.

Why, for instance, did David Cameron make the announcement yesterday?

Here’s the spin. Cameron decided to tackle the “stain on Britain’s reputation” and finally draw a line under a costly and debilitating process, in which the government spends years fighting half a dozen cases through the courts.

The truth? The timing, at least, was probably more to do with this ruling from Mr Justice Silber. It is well worth a read.

Silber gives the government until July 9 to publish the highly contentious 2002 and 2004 guidance given to intelligence officers on interrogations.

Funnily enough, that deadline ends on Friday. A remarkable coincidence. Read more