Libya relations split opinion

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
September 13, 2011, 11:14 PM GMT+0

British public opinion is split over whether the last Labour Government was correct to re-establish British diplomatic dealings with Libya following the 1980s halt in relations with the Gaddafi regime in the 1980s, our poll has found. However, the results also show that while a significant proportion of people suspect the then-Government of not being upfront about its relations, many feel that it was right to exchange information with Libya on Al-Qaeda and Islamic extremism. The results come in light of the on-going Libya crisis and the establishment of its new ‘rebel’ authority, the Interim National Transitional Council (NTC).

  • 39% of Brits believe re-establishing positive diplomatic relations with Gaddafi was the wrong thing for the Blair Government to do
  • 36% think it was right
  • 62% feel that the then-Government was not open and upfront about Britain’s dealings with Libya at the time (just 11% think it was)
  • Yet during this period, nearly half of Britons (49%) feel that it was right for British security services to exchange information on Islamic extremism and Al-Qaeda with the Gaddafi regime
  • Under a quarter (24%) say that this exchange of information was wrong

Opinion is also split over whether it was right for the Government to release Lockerbie bomber Abdelbasset Ali al-Megrahi, who was allowed to return to Libya from prison after a doctor confirmed that he had only months to live.

Almost two thirds (65%) of people thought that it was wrong decision to allow al-Megrahi to be flown back to Libya on compassionate grounds, following his diagnosis of advanced prostate cancer, while 62% feel that there were ‘other motives and reasons’ behind his release than those based solely on compassionate grounds (just 24% believe this was the main motivator behind his release).

‘Britain will continue to support Libya’

The state of the African nation has been ever more in the spotlight recently, with bombardments of Gaddafi targets arguably allowing rebels to supersede the dictator. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s ‘carrot and stick’ policy with Libya created controversy long before this rebel standoff, however: his close ties with Gaddafi’s regime brought much criticism.

However, Blair defended his actions, stating that he had no regrets about setting aside decades of hostility between Britain and Libya and holding out an olive branch in 2004. In return, the now in-hiding Colonel Gaddafi formally agreed to give up his programme of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

‘I always say to people it is absolutely simple – the external policy of Libya changed,’ Blair has said.

In present-day Libya, as the crisis appears to be drawing to an end following leader Gaddafi’s topple from power, current Prime Minister David Cameron says he perceives the future of Libya as belonging to its people. He has stated that Britain will continue its support, but for the Libyan people and for the country’s reconstruction efforts.

He said ‘I look forward to building a bilateral relationship with the new Libyan authority. We have close relations with the (National Transitional Council) NTC through our mission in Benghazi.’