NTC envoys arrive in London as UK policy shift sets new precedent
Britain’s decision to expel all remaining Libyan diplomats and to treat the rebel opposition as the ‘sole governmental authority’ marks a u-turn in UK policy which could have long-term repercussions, Libyan experts have warned.
The UK move to invite Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC) to send an envoy to London follows a decision by the Libyan Contact Group to deal with the TNC as the legitimate government of Libya.
This was intended to increase the political pressure on the Gaddafi regime and to enable countries to transfer badly-needed frozen assets to the TNC.
Writing in the London Review of Books, Oliver Miles, the former UK Ambassador to Tripoli, pointed out that recognising the TNC as the ‘sole’ authority could store up problems if Britain breaks off all dialogue with Gaddafi and his followers, whom he believes should be included in a negotiated settlement.
In recognising the TNC, Miles recalled a similar debate in the 1960s about Yemen, over whether Britain should continue to recognise the reactionary old regime of the Imam or switch to the unknown and possibly unstable new Republic.
To avoid this “invidious choice”, Britain switched from the doctrine of recognition of governments to the doctrine of recognition of states. However the decision to recognise Libya’s TNC “appears to go some way towards reversing that decision,” said Miles.
He added: “It is easy to see that there will be future cases where the same dilemma comes up: possibly Somalia, Yemen, even Syria and no doubt others over the horizon.”
Miles said it was “unprecedented” for a receiving state to decide who will represent a foreign state, an action that could raise tricky issues of protocol.
“Presumably Hague and his advisers have seen these difficulties coming, which is why they used the informal word ‘envoy’ rather than ‘ambassador’: an ambassador is normally the representative of a head of state, but no one in Libya claims to be that,” he said.