Foreign Affairs Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 80

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee

on Wednesday 18 April 2012

Members present:

Richard Ottaway (Chair)

Mr Bob Ainsworth

Mr John Baron

Ann Clwyd

Mike Gapes

Andrew Rosindell

Mr Frank Roy

Rory Stewart

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Alistair Burt MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Middle East and North Africa, and Jon Davies, Additional Director of Middle East and North Africa Directorate (MENAD), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, gave evidence.

Q169 Chair: I welcome members of the public to this session of the Foreign Affairs Committee. This is our fifth and last evidence session in our inquiry into British foreign policy and the Arab Spring. We are pleased to welcome back Mr Burt, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for the Middle East and North Africa, and Jon Davies, who is the Additional Director of the Middle East and North Africa Directorate in the Foreign Office. Welcome to you both. Thank you very much, Minister, for finding the time to come back again, after democracy got in the way, with endless Divisions last time.

Alistair Burt: How appropriate to what we are discussing.

Q170 Chair: Exactly. If you remember, we had looked at the broader picture at the time. We want to focus today on three countries: Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Could I start the ball rolling with Egypt? How do you see the democratisation process going in Egypt, particularly given that, as I am sure you are well aware, the electoral commission in Egypt has actually vetoed some of the presidential candidates? How do you think this is going to go over the next few weeks?

Alistair Burt: There is a clear track towards the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces giving up its power, under new arrangements, both to the Parliament and to a President. It does not strike me that this has been affected by the recent decision of the commission to ban certain candidates. Let me talk about that for a second. The process by which this was done was very open. The commission had declared that candidates would have to fulfil certain criteria, and if they breached them, they were liable to suspension. This has been followed in relation to a number of candidates. There was an appeal process, which was open. The appeals have been turned down, as we have learned to day.

Q171 Chair: That is news today, is it?

Alistair Burt: Yes, if you were not aware of it. We understand that the appeals have not been upheld in any of the cases. That has, effectively, curtailed the field of the candidates, but it has been done constitutionally, with due process, openly and transparently. Now Egypt has to get on with it and recognise what has been done.

I do not see that anything necessarily has been wrong in relation to the process. Good candidates are still left in the field who will give the public an opportunity to express their opinion about the presidency. While I was there recently, I met two of the major candidates, and one of the candidates who has now been disqualified. They have every intention of putting forward effective manifestos, explaining what they are standing for and why, and that process seems to be in full swing.

We must now wait and see. It has been very interesting watching things take place, but our sense is that, although it is difficult and conditions are not always comfortable, a definite process is being followed, and it is on track to produce presidential elections that we, at this stage, believe have every likelihood of being free and fair.

Q172 Chair: Let’s hope you are right. While we were there, a few days before you, we met some of the political parties. We met the Muslim Brotherhood and el-Nour-the Salafist party. Although we have not reached any conclusions, my personal impression was that the Muslim Brotherhood were people with whom we could do business, and that there is nothing to be frightened about. I asked the leader of the Salafists whether religion influenced his politics, and he said yes. There is no mystery in that; it is what we expect. Would it be difficult for the British Government to work with an Egyptian government that have Salafists as members?

Alistair Burt: On the face of it, the answer to that has to be no, provided that those engaged in government adhere to the sort of values that we have set out as the basis of our engagement with parties throughout the Middle East, regardless of their label or background. That is a commitment to democracy and democratic values, a commitment to human rights, and a respect for previous agreements that have been made. Those are the sorts of values that we will look for, certainly in terms of our own engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has ramped up because of changed circumstances in the region. It was always there at an official level; it has been there for some time. I also met representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood at ministerial level, and we engaged with them on the basis of the values that I have outlined. I met the leader of the Salafists there, too.

We must recognise that in Egypt religion influences not just politics but life in a way that the majority of people in the United Kingdom do not necessarily recognise, because our society is very different. That it influences politics is obvious. However, it is a question of to what extent it influences, and whether it conflicts with the sort of values that we all hold to be valuable. The shorthand answer to your question is that, on the values espoused by the Salafists in government, they will have to reconcile their religious values and background with democratic values. If that test were met, I do not think that it would affect the engagement of the United Kingdom with the government with which the Salafists might be involved.

Q173 Rory Stewart: How does the principle that you engage only with people who respect human rights apply to your engagement with the governments of China or Saudi Arabia, or any number of governments that we deal with around the world on a routine basis through our embassies?

Alistair Burt: Perhaps I have to define engagement, Rory, and say that it is not the same as support. We have to be clear with this: engagement can cover a variety of different things. Engaging with Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafists, or governments in different parts of the world, never implies wholehearted support for every item that they might have in their manifesto, constitution or anything else. Clearly, we have engagement with countries whose respect for human rights and whose understanding of human rights values is in quite sharp conflict with our own, but so long as we can see a point in engaging, we do. That is the distinction.

However, there might be a further distinction if you look at, say, the engagement-or non-engagement-with Hamas. If people publicly espouse violence as a way of achieving their objectives, that crosses a red line. Where that is not the case, even though the United Kingdom might find difficulties in dealing with some governments because of their position on certain things, that does not preclude engagement, hopefully, as a way of influencing them.

Q174 Mr Roy: Minister, while we were in Egypt, we heard Egyptians talk about the fact that the United Kingdom held funds that were Egyptian; about us not having an extradition agreement that would allow former ministers to be extradited to Egypt; and even about us covering up murders in this country of Egyptian citizens. Bearing in mind those thoughts-I was going to ask you why Egyptians have a low opinion of the United Kingdom, but I suppose that is self-evident-how is the Foreign Office tackling that type of perception?

Alistair Burt: First, what we try to do, in answering questions such as those raised with me by the media and others when I was there, is try to explain what the truth of the matter might be. We have robustly implemented EU sanctions in relation to assets and asset freezes. We moved very swiftly as soon as the appropriate measures were passed through the EU to make sure that our legislation conformed, so that we could freeze assets. The return of assets is a legal process, not an executive one. Due legal process has to be followed in Egypt in order to raise the case which enables the money to be returned. We are quite within our rights to insist that the legal process be followed; otherwise, we could be accused of handing back money to the wrong people at the wrong time, or anything else. There is proper process, and when that is followed, the money will flow back. Sometimes that is not fully understood in Egypt, where they assume it is an automatic process-that all the government have to do is ask for money back and it will come back. That is not the case, but if legal process is followed, there is absolutely no difficulty. We want the assets of the Egyptian people to be available to them.

Extradition of individuals is slightly different, because it is of long standing that we do not comment on individual, personal cases. It is a matter for the Home Office. We neither confirm nor deny that we have received an extradition request in relation to a particular individual until such time as that individual is arrested in relation to the request. Again, once you explain that, people understand a little bit more.

The way in which we counter a perception that we are not helpful is to indicate our widespread support for Egyptians across the board, in terms of the Arab Partnership and all the work that we do, and to say that in the legal matters they raise, we have exactly the same spirit as they do but, understandably, we have to follow proper process.

Q175 Mr Roy: But could that perception-in other words, if they do not trust us-undermine the type of support that we would like to offer in relation to the new democracy or whatever?

Alistair Burt: I think it would affect matters if we tried to be opaque or evasive about it, but if we are honest and transparent in what we say about our processes, which can be objectively checked by anyone in the Egyptian system, I do not think it harms our reputation for supporting Egypt and handling the other matters.

Q176 Mr Roy: But you accept that there is a problem?

Alistair Burt: I accept that, talking to the media there, it is clear that they have a perception, because it is a question that is raised frequently. Accordingly, we have to continue to do more. There is the question of whether it is raised for form’s sake, because they feel it is something that they should raise, but as for the overall perception that you hinted at to begin with, on how they feel about us, I am not sure I would necessarily accept that. I think people in Egypt do recognise the part that we have played and are playing. I did not get a perception of unpopularity or anything like that, which I think attaches to some other nations that it is not fair to name. I did not get that sense. They are interested in these legal matters-you are absolutely right-but I do not think it clouds everything else.

Jon Davies: On that last point, yes, there have been criticisms, and yes, there are ways in which public opinion is not always supportive of the UK. One of the strengths has been precisely rule of law. One of the things that the UK has been admired for in Egypt is a system where rule of law is important. That brings us back to both aspects of the questions you raised: assets and extradition. It is right that we are standing by the rule of law in responding to those legitimate Egyptian aspirations to extradite people where there is a good case for extradition, and to have assets returned where there is a good legal case for that. On extradition, you are right that there is not a treaty present, but that does not prevent extradition. There can be, and have been in the past, specific-to-the-case extradition agreements. That can happen, even in the absence of an extradition treaty, and there are processes for that.

Q177 Rory Stewart: Minister, the failure to get a $5 billion loan to the Egyptian government last year was very dangerous, and it has had very damaging effects on the Egyptian economy. Do you think it is fair to put all the blame on the Egyptian government for the fact that the loan did not go through?

Alistair Burt: I have never thought about it quite in terms of blame. The Egyptian government have exhibited a very great pride in their own capabilities, in their sovereignty, and in their determination to do things without concession to outside support, if they felt that terms and conditions were being applied that would undermine that sense of sovereignty. All governments are entitled to do that. It then becomes a question of judgement as to what extent they insist upon it, if in fact the benefits that might flow from a loan and the conditions of a loan are actually to the benefit of the economy.

I think I would express frustration on behalf of the UK and the international community at the fact that what we believe were well-intentioned and good measures that would assist the Egyptian economy were not picked up at an earlier stage, because our assessment of the perils of the Egyptian economy, which I am sure would be shared by the Committee, is that it has been in a very bad way. It has been through a very bad year and key decisions that could have been made have not been made, partly because they are a transitional government and a new government is to come along, and perhaps they did not want to pre-empt decisions, and partly because of a lack of decision making.

I do not think I have ever had it in my mind to attribute pure blame. I believe it would have been better for Egypt had the negotiations on the loan succeeded, and succeeded sooner. They are still in play with the IMF. I think they are being seen in a different way now. I think it would have been better, but I am not blaming the Egyptian government wholly at this stage.

Q178 Rory Stewart: Given the sensitivities of the Egyptian government, do you think it was appropriate for the World Bank to demand transparency and governance conditionality on the loan?

Alistair Burt: Yes. Transparency and accountability are hugely important. It is important for those who are contributing to the resources that are going to economies in transition, and it is crucial for those economies that are receiving money to be able to demonstrate how they are handling it. Bearing in mind the difficulties that some of these countries have had in the past with financial affairs, and not least the amount that is off the balance sheet in the Egyptian economy, it is important. How that is discussed and pressed and the time scale are matters for negotiation between the respective parties, but the UK Government think it is important that there is some conditionality applied to international loans and support.

Q179 Rory Stewart: Minister, given the incredible importance of that loan to Egypt’s economy and the stability of the whole region, was that really the time to be pushing for transparency, which had not traditionally existed in the Egyptian system, at the cost of the Egyptian government turning down a $5 billion loan and potentially destabilising the region? Did we have our priorities right?

Alistair Burt: Well, time will tell. I would also say that the fact that the government are now engaged in serious discussions on that loan, and have moved their position, because of the resistance of the international community to making concessions on conditionality-or wholesale ones-probably proves the point. It is a very fine judgement. I think we all knew that the loss of foreign reserves in Egypt, the change in the nature of its reserves and the difference in its trade balance and budget deficit were of significant concern, but there is a point at which shovelling money with no conditions into such a situation actually does not do anyone any good. That is a fine judgement to be made, by both those giving and those receiving. As a matter of principle, I think that there should be an understanding in a country that is receiving a loan that some degree of economic reform or change is necessary. That is probably a pretty important principle to establish at an early instance. Then you leave it to those who are negotiating to make the fine judgements we have spoken of. I do not think that we should concede at this stage that a requirement for those conditions is necessarily a matter of blame for those in the donor position.

Jon Davies: One of the other things that the international financial institutions were rightly trying to do was make sure not only that those governing Egypt at that moment were content with the deal, but that those who were likely to be governing Egypt, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, were involved. Part of that shared aim of actually getting something that everyone could commit to and agree to was the need to involve other parts of the Egyptian system as well. As the Minister suggests, we now find ourselves in a position in which there is reasonable optimism that a deal will be agreed in the coming weeks with the IMF that will have sufficient buy-in from across the Egyptian spectrum to address those very strongly held public doubts about international loans, but that will have broader public acceptance, because it has broader acceptance across the political spectrum in Egypt. That is another argument to say that waiting was not wrong, as far as I can see.

Q180 Mike Gapes: International non-governmental organisations and many Egyptians have expressed concerns about human rights developments, saying that Mubarak may have gone, but that in some respects the human rights situation for some Egyptians has probably got worse in the past year. When we were there, we met some of the people-Egyptians-working for the international NGOs at the time of the threatened trial of the foreign NGOs. Can you update us on your assessment of what is happening there? What have the British Government actually done-what representations have been made-to do with those issues, not only for the international people, who I understand were allowed to leave, although the charges have not been dropped, but also for the Egyptians who still potentially face a difficult time because they are linked to those international NGOs?

Alistair Burt: In relation to the international NGOs and the trial process, we did make representations. Plainly, we regarded the pressure that those NGOs were being put under to be a misjudgement by the Egyptian authorities that could have profound consequences. We were very uncomfortable with the way in which this was handled; it looked to be an attempt to influence external NGOs, or to place unfair restrictions upon them. It is important for any international NGO to go through a proper process of registration in a host country-we all understand that-but something went wrong. The detentions, arrests and inability to travel were, in our view, a misjudgement, and we made representations to the Egyptian authorities in relation to that.

We continue to have concerns about human rights and the freedom of our NGOs to operate. We continue to urge the Egyptian authorities to put in place legislation on human rights and to give their own NGOs, as well as international NGOs, the ability to operate properly. I raised that matter when I was there, and I will continue to raise it. It is an unresolved issue, and we are right to express concern.

Q181 Mike Gapes: Did you also raise the case of Samira Ibrahim when you were in Egypt?

Alistair Burt: I do not think that I did, to be honest.

Q182 Mike Gapes: What about the continuing role of military trials of people who were involved in the protests? Did you raise that issue?

Alistair Burt: Yes. We have raised that on a number of occasions. We regard such trials as inappropriate; there should be civil trials, and we will continue to make that case. I will check about Samira Ibrahim, if I can.

Q183 Mike Gapes: Is there a more general problem, in that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and residual elements from the previous regime, including the Minister of Planning and International Co-operation, Faiza Abou el-Naga, are still in place, and that they are the people behind this repression? Do you expect that when a real transition takes place-whether to the Muslim Brotherhood or others-and there is a new President, the circumstances of human rights organisations and protesters will improve?

Alistair Burt: How can I phrase this? I think that you accurately describe a conflict that is going on within Egypt with regard to how it responds to everything that has happened over the past year or so and moves forward, and the conflict between values of the past and the future. It is not for the United Kingdom to say who should or should not be in place in particular government positions or anything like that. We have made our position very clear. We think that current human rights legislation is still deficient, and that more needs to be done. We are clear about the values that a new constitution and legislation should espouse, and we are certainly not blind to the fact that the view is not necessarily universally held by everyone in positions of authority in Egypt or the like. Ultimately, this is for the Egyptian people and the Egyptian government to resolve, but it is obvious that there is a reluctance among some fully to embrace what we believe the changes have sparked and created. However, our determination in the direction that I am indicating is clear.

Q184 Mike Gapes: I have one final question. You said that you had not raised the issue of Samira Ibrahim. The fact that there were allegations about the way that the military behaved-that it had been involved in raping female demonstrators and virginity-testing them-is clearly a matter of concern.

Alistair Burt: We raised that.

Q185 Mike Gapes: Can I put it to you that there is a real concern about the erosion of women’s rights? There are very few female parliamentarians compared with before, and there is a real fear that the transition in Egypt could lead to a worse situation for women.

Alistair Burt: Let me be very clear. I do not recall raising an individual case, but we have raised cases in relation to virginity testing, women’s rights and the like. The Committee is absolutely right. This issue is very important to the United Kingdom, and we meet women activists and others.

If I may, I will offer one anecdote in relation to this. I spoke to some young women who were engaged in an NGO project about the role of women in society, and asked what they thought about the future. Their view was that they do not so much fear new legislation as much as they fear culture. It is not legislation in Egypt but culture that they fear might hold them back in the future. On specific issues such as virginity testing and the like, we have made our views very clear. It is unacceptable, and people have to pay due and proper attention to that in the future.

Q186 Ann Clwyd: But they didn’t, did they? I raised the issue on the Floor of the House, and some Foreign Office Minister-I am not sure whether it was you-said that he would follow it up. We met women while we were there-we have got lots of anecdotes-who are very concerned about the fact that the officer who was charged with examining women for virginity got off scot-free. Obviously, that is not satisfactory. That certainly does not look good for human rights in future. There is real concern about women’s rights, particularly in the writing of the constitution and with fewer women in Parliament. I do not know how many women are on the constitutional committee, but I suspect very few. They are very afraid about the kind of laws that will emerge as a result of rewriting the constitution.

On the subject of the NGOs, the Americans waved the big stick and threatened to cut off aid. As a result, all the American NGOs were freed, but we are worried about all the other NGOs who are still on trial and behind bars. So, I think it is a bit more urgent.

Alistair Burt: I do not want to minimise in any way either the concern or the urgency in relation to this. We are actively engaged with women’s rights organisations and in helping the promotion of candidates at local and parliamentary elections in Egypt. We are engaging with those who are working towards more effective participation. These are areas in which our partnership programme and our post in Cairo are actively engaged and actively working. As I said, we ask about this and we are aware of the conflicts in Egyptian society itself. We are quite clear about where we stand in relation to this. We will continue to pursue that.

Q187 Ann Clwyd: It would be useful if you kept us updated on the progress of pressing for women’s rights, on the new constitution and on matters in general.

Alistair Burt: I will happily do so. I am hoping to brief colleagues more generally on my portfolio, possibly some time next week, and I will make sure that I have added a piece in relation to that. However, we do take it very seriously.

Q188 Mr Ainsworth: Since the changes started in Egypt, we have seen some changed positions with regard to Egypt’s neighbours. The government have been prepared to open the Rafah crossing, whereas Mubarak was happy to maintain the blockade. They have facilitated negotiations between Hamas and Fatah. Is a more democratic Egypt, if that is what they can achieve, going to be a positive or a negative thing for the Middle East Peace Process? What is your current take on the situation?

Alistair Burt: In answer to the direct question that I raised with presidential candidates and other leading figures about support for the peace agreement with Israel and the adherence to it, there was acceptance across the board that this was something they believed in and supported. I make that clear. However, I also make clear-as your question hints at, and I think we have to be honest-that is not necessarily the feeling of all the Egyptian people. There is a current of concern about the relationship with Israel, which they, as democratic politicians, note. We have no reason to disbelieve their position at present. Indeed, it was an early commitment that the new government made. However, it is one of the things that drives me to repeat constantly in relation to all those involved in the Middle East Peace Process that it is one of the reasons for urgency.

The situation in the region is not likely to stay the same. The status quo will not necessarily hold over a lengthy period of time. Accordingly, people should use the opportunity they have now to drive forward on the Peace Process. So, as far as the politicians were concerned, at this stage we have no reason to believe that that support for the Peace Process is in any way short. However, they recognise themselves that the feeling on the street may not necessarily be the same, and I think that we should use that as an opportunity to continue to inject urgency into the Middle East Peace Process.

Q189 Mr Ainsworth: Have you seen a response from the Israeli side to that seemingly obvious need for urgency?

Alistair Burt: Again, as the Committee is probably aware, although the talks in Amman have stalled between Israeli and Palestinian representatives, there is still some measure of contact going on. I think that there is a measure of understanding in Israel that, although the region is very volatile, there might be good reasons not to use the volatility as a reason to say, "Let’s not make any further progress", but to take a rather different view. Again, as the Committee will be aware, there are, however, different views taken in Israel on pushing this forward. Our view on the urgency is unequivocal and there are certainly some voices and some ears in Israel that are listening to that.

Q190 Chair: Thank you, Minister. Can we turn now to Libya? It might be helpful if we start with the recent publicity around the case of Mr Belhadj. This has arisen out of a document that was found after the fall of Tripoli in the offices of Mr Moussa Koussa, the head of Libyan intelligence. Have you actually had a chance to look at that document?

Alistair Burt: I have not personally, no.

Q191 Chair: So you are unaware of its contents.

Alistair Burt: I have not examined it personally. I am aware of the contents, but I am very limited as to what I can say in relation to the situation affecting Mr Belhadj, because of the ongoing legal process, which has now clearly started.

Q192 Chair: I have to confess that I have taken advice on this and, as I understand it, this is not sub judice at the moment, because charges have not currently been pressed against anybody and the civil proceedings have not started.

Alistair Burt: I’d like to proceed on the basis of please, you must ask any questions that you wish, but I am conscious that notification of legal proceedings has already been served in the case. We have notice of an action against the British Government and there are reports of action against a former Foreign Secretary.

Q193 Chair: As far as civil proceedings are concerned, the House rules say that sub judice only bites when the proceedings actually start, rather than when the proceedings are commenced.

Alistair Burt: Well, as I say, Chairman, you must ask any question that you wish. If my answers are inadequate for the Committee, because I think that there are legal proceedings, I have to stand by that. I will do my best to answer in general, but I won’t go into specifics in this case.

Q194 Chair: Is it accepted that the document is a Government document?

Alistair Burt: I don’t know.

Q195 Chair: You mean that you don’t know whether or not-

Alistair Burt: I don’t know.

Q196 Chair: It talks about conversations with No. 10.

Alistair Burt: I don’t know. I do not have any instructions in relation to that.

Q197 Chair: Mr Belhadj, we are advised, is now working for the Libyan government. Does the fact that he is making allegations of unlawful rendition against him hamper UK-Libya relations at the moment?

Alistair Burt: Okay, I am much more comfortable on this territory. He is not a member of the Libyan government in the first place. Secondly, the relationship is not hampered. The relationship that we have with Libya is very broad-based. It covers a whole variety of different areas, from civil and physical reconstruction to the political reconstruction and everything else. It is a good, strong relationship. It is not solely defined by issues relating to the past, whether that is in relation to the allegations that we are talking about or other legacy issues.

Also, I would say that the present Government have made clear their determination for openness in relation to issues of the past, which is where the Gibson inquiry comes in and where there will be proper legal process as well. We have put in place processes which will allow some of the issues of the past to be properly explored in that particular environment. There is an acceptance therefore that the relationship with the British Government is warm and good, so, no, we do not consider at this stage that it would necessarily be hampered by any action that any individual would wish to take, because there is proper due process to deal with that.

Q198 Chair: What position does Mr Belhadj hold now?

Alistair Burt: Jon will correct me, but my understanding is that he is a local military commander, but I do not believe that he has a formal Libyan government position.

Jon Davies: That is right. It is part of the unresolved question which we might come on to subsequently about militias and their future within the country. That is the world in which he is still operating. He does not hold a formal position within the transitional government: that is right.

Chair: Thank you. I suspect we will return to this subject, Minister, but let us continue with our inquiries.

Q199 Ann Clwyd: If Libya fragments further, politically or as far as the internal security is concerned, does the FCO have any contingency plans to help in the situation? In particular, after the Council of Europe’s very critical report of all nations involved in Libya not having any plans to deal with migrants and refugees, given the numbers who perished on the boat in the Mediterranean, the dozens of migrants who were fleeing the violence in Libya, is that part of the contingency plan?

Alistair Burt: In relation to the fragmentation, if I can start briefly with that, plainly it is not the role of the United Kingdom Government to dictate the territorial integrity or whatever of any other state. The interesting thing is that, as we know, historically, Libya has three strong component parts. That there has always been a strong local identity related to that is obviously well known. Also, there have been issues in the east about their feeling that sense of identity very strongly. That is also well known, but at this stage I don’t think there is a real suggestion or a real expectation in the United Kingdom Government that this will develop rapidly into any form of fragmentation.

If there is due constitutional process about devolution of power or autonomy of anything else, as we see in the United Kingdom, this is nothing particularly new or unusual. The important thing is that there is a process for it: it is not new; it is not associated with violence; it is constitutional and the like. If that is to happen in Libya, that is a matter for Libya, and if it happens in that sort of manner, then I don’t think there can be any issue in relation to security or anything else.

One of the interesting things that we all now know about is that this can be freely discussed. For the last 40 years it was not an issue that could be discussed by the population of Libya at all. Now it can be. That has got to be essentially a good thing, and then people can make a judgement about whether it is a road down which they want to go, or whether territorial integrity, which plainly was the intention of the NTC during the course of the conflict, is something that matters more than any other identity. However, I do not think that the discussion of it is a matter for worry or concern to the United Kingdom.

In terms of security and militia, this is a matter in which we are engaged. We recognise the pressures between individual militias and between militia and the government. So far, although tensions are there, there is a process by which these issues are being handled. We wish to support a process by which the militia will form part of a national security force. Others will return to other occupations or go into other occupations. Again, that is a matter that we are working on, and working with, and it is being handled. Yes, there are tensions and difficulties, but so far it is under control.

As far as contingency for the future is concerned, I assume you mean if it all happens again. Well, I suppose the honest thing to say is that the UK Government are constantly aware of the fragility of the areas in which they are operating and make a security assessment on a regular basis about what may be happening at present. I don’t think we have a serious indication that there is likely to be a rapid collapse of government that would lead to the sort of concerns and the evacuation that has taken place in the past. We have looked at all our evacuation procedures as a result of what happened in the Arab Spring and, indeed, as a result of the investigations by your Committee some time ago. However, I don’t think at this stage we have any immediate concerns in relation to that.

Q200 Ann Clwyd: So there are no contingency plans?

Alistair Burt: There are always contingency plans for any emergency. You would not expect anything else. Understandably, the priority allotted to them depends on the circumstances at the time. Although we would always want to know how we would deal with a sudden emergency and the procedures in place, the likelihood of that emergency is always, always calculated as you get on with your work. The fact that it is not our top priority today is because we don’t expect it, not because if it happened we wouldn’t be able to cope with it or be ready for it.

Q201 Ann Clwyd: I won’t press the Council of Europe report today because I hope we will return to it. In view of what happened and the criticisms made, there should be contingency plans to deal with migrants and refugees should the need occur.

Alistair Burt: I am sure that is right and I am happy to deal with that on another occasion.

Q202 Chair: Mr Davies, you briefly mentioned the militia a moment ago. Minister, what progress has been made in disarming the militia?

Alistair Burt: Slow, and very much related to local agreements being made between those who have the confidence of those in central government and those who do not. We are engaged in this process in providing support, assistance and practical guidance, but the honest truth is that it is slow and has to be done at their own pace.

To balance that, the concern people have expressed over the past few months that at any stage this may flare up into some form of confrontation has not been the case. Difficult though these negotiations are locally, there is a process and those involved are working through them. We continue to give support. It is a matter of urgency that this is dealt with, and the Libyan government know that.

Q203 Mr Ainsworth: You said in your statement after you returned that you were going to reach "a framework for co-operation" within which we could deal with the legacy issues of the Qadhafi era.

Alistair Burt: Yes.

Q204 Mr Ainsworth: What progress has been made with regard to the killers of WPC Yvonne Fletcher?

Alistair Burt: I am shortly to pay another visit to Libya. The resolution of what we term and know to be the legacy issues remains a matter of high priority for the UK, and the Libyan government are aware of that. They know it is a matter we will press on every occasion. There has to be a process for this. The most important thing in relation to WPC Fletcher is to get the Metropolitan Police back as quickly as possible and we are still working on a date for that with the Libyan authorities.

I have to say at this stage-it is important-that the capacity of the Libyan authorities at the moment is understandably limited because of the circumstances in which they are operating. Those of you who were there will know that very well. This is not a new Administration that has taken over from an administrative structure that was functional, that worked in anything like a manner that we understand. They were taking over from a dictatorship where effectively nothing worked without reference to the top and where civil administration is still incredibly poor.

They are also going through a transitional process in relation to government as they create a new constitution and a new governmental process. They are also dealing with the security issues, not just internal but in relation to their borders. Accordingly, although these matters-and WPC Fletcher is at the top-are of the utmost importance to the UK to resolve, we have to recognise that there is a pace at which the Libyan authorities are able to work. Their commitment has been genuine. They do know from us and the British public how important these issues are.

They recognise, in much the same way as they are looking for justice and answers to what happened in Abu Salim, and what happened to the people who they don’t know who gave the orders to do whatever happened to them, that we would have exactly the same determination to find out who ordered what and why. Approaching the authorities in that way, and helping them to understand that is why the British public and the rest of us are so concerned, is the way to approach it. We have commitment but they are not in a position to follow through yet in the practical ways they need to do. We are urging them to get into that position as soon as possible.

Q205 Mr Ainsworth: You believe that the barriers are all practical, that there are grounds for patience and that there is no reticence to get to grips with these legacy issues, most particularly Yvonne Fletcher.

Alistair Burt: I do not think there is a reticence in relation to justice. I think there are one or two issues and some concern in some quarters-not in relation to WPC Fletcher, but other cases-that the matter is about reopening compensation or something like that. We are busy seeking to dissuade people that that is the case. It is fundamentally-

Q206 Mr Ainsworth: So it is on al-Megrahi.

Alistair Burt: That’s it. Correct. It is fundamentally the search for truth that is important. So no, I do not believe that there are institutional barriers to that, but there are other apprehensions together with that.

Q207 Mr Roy: In relation to al-Megrahi and the Pan Am Lockerbie bombing, are there still ongoing discussions on that particular subject?

Alistair Burt: We continue to make the case that Dumfries and Galloway police must have access and must be able to get on with that investigation. That is also a priority for us. As I said, there is an apprehension in some parts of the Libyan structure that this is about reopening compensation, which they believe was dealt with in the past; whereas we are keen to make the case, in support of those who are conducting the investigation, that it is about finding out the truth of the matter, which we understand from all the families involved is principally what they want to know, and we press that case.

Q208 Mr Roy: Can I have the assurance then, that when al-Megrahi finally does pass away, that this is not going to be dropped and that this is not going to change anything at all in relation to the questions that we need to ask?

Alistair Burt: No, absolutely not. It is not related to his continued existence. As I say, I think the most understandable way for me to present it with those whom I am talking to is to look at the legacy of Abu Salim. When you read information about that-if you look at Lindsey Hilsum’s book, the impact that Abu Salim had on the Libyan people and how they want to uncover what happened after been so long denied information-I think that understanding of why the truth has to be found is really important. Indeed, whether or not and however long al-Megrahi survives, that will remain of fundamental importance to us.

Q209 Mr Baron: Minister, when you were last before us, we discussed, in general terms, with regards Britain’s foreign policy to the Middle East, the inconsistencies-a fact accepted and almost apologised for by the Prime Minister in his address to the Kuwaiti parliament in February 2011; it was not helped that he was leading an arms delegation at the moment. But you were good enough to accept that we have not always got it right.

Can I pull that into Libya in one respect and suggest to you again that there have been stark inconsistencies? One minute, Libya was out in the cold. From 2000 onwards, there has been a strong effort to rapprochement-hugs in the desert and a previous Prime Minister phoning up trying to sell arms. We know of the allegations with regards rendition, which certainly suggest a close co-operation at the highest levels. Can you explain why the rapprochement took place and to what extent did commercial interests play a part? Do you think it was worth it?

Alistair Burt: I can only do a certain amount, as we were not in office at the time, but I can certainly comment generally, as you would expect me to do.

On the basic principle of whether or not, after 2001 and the declared change of tack by Qadhafi in relation to weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, it was justifiable for the United Kingdom and others to seek to build on that in order to bring Libya back from the cold, I think the answer to that must be yes. In my judgement, that was the correct thing for the international community and the previous Government to do; I think that is entirely fair.

The question is then raised, of course, as to how far that goes and what judgements are made in individual circumstances. The Prime Minister has said himself, as you indicated, that in his opinion, it went too far. There were individual decisions with which he would not have agreed and would not have taken. As time goes on, and more is uncovered, there may be more discomfort in relation to that, but I do not think it is unfair to separate those individual circumstances from the broad principle. The broad principle is about whether it is right, if a government change tack, that there is recognition of that, response to it and new judgements made according to what is happening. The answer to that must be that it is right. If North Korea turned around on its nuclear policy tomorrow, would the international community change its position? Yes. If the negotiations with Iran in relation to its nuclear track are successful, will there be a different relationship between Iran and the international community? Yes. Will it involve, to a certain extent, the international community perhaps being more welcoming-because that is just the way of it-than the other side might be? Again, probably yes, but there are individual judgements to be made, and if they go too far, that would be wrong.

Q210 Mr Baron: May I press you, Minister? You quite rightly-I think it is a valid point-make the point that if governments change tack, that needs to be recognised and fully taken onboard. Let us move this forward as regards Libya: we had a government who did not change tack, basically. The rapprochement took place, but they did not change tack in that human rights were still very much a secondary feature and it was very much a repressive regime. We knew that-we have had no shortage of commentators in front of us making this very point.

Why then, if I may ask, did we change tack ourselves in turning on Qadhafi, knowing that he had this very repressive regime? The official line was to save the citizens of Benghazi, but we knew that there were alternatives to the West getting involved. The Egyptian air force remained intact-it was a largely peaceful revolution-and they themselves called for a sort of air cover over Benghazi. Why suddenly the change to what many viewed as a process of regime change to the very end?

Alistair Burt: You are asking me some questions I cannot answer, because they involve judgements made by the previous Government that I am not privy to.

Q211 Mr Baron: But the charge was led by this Government as regards the regime change, when we had known all the time that this was a repressive regime.

Alistair Burt: I come back to a comment I made earlier, that there is engagement with governments of many different sorts in relation to their practices. There are a number of governments who have human rights records which concern us, and which we talk about and raise with them, but that does not necessarily mean disengagement. Broadly, this country works on the basis that, for the most part, engagement is usually the right process in order to effect change, though there are circumstances in which that engagement cannot continue and carry on.

The situation was plainly reached with Qadhafi in that, in terms of his response to legitimate reform and the protest movement within his country, his form of repression went beyond the bounds that the United Kingdom could possibly countenance, hence the activity that we were engaged in last year. Until then, difficult individual judgements are made about how you would engage, how you would seek to effect change and the like. In hindsight, some of those can be illustrated as poor but, equally, there are other cases in which that engagement may look to be worth while.

Q212 Mr Baron: May I press you, finally, on the extent to which the al-Megrahi revelations stung the coalition Government into action? I remember when we went over to the States and we had a meeting with the congressional foreign relations committee. I was certainly expecting an element of interest in Afghanistan and Iraq, where we were sharing the loss of troops and certainly expense, but all they seemed to be interested in was disappointment that, in their eyes, there had been collusion between the governments in the release of al-Megrahi. To what extent did that-the American concern and outrage at recent revelations with regards to the al-Megrahi case and his release-sting the incoming coalition Government into perhaps changing tack on Libya?

Alistair Burt: I think the present Government made it very clear that the release of al-Megrahi was not a decision that they would have supported. Granted that it was not a decision for the United Kingdom Government, the Prime Minister made it very clear that it was a judgement that he would not have supported. Honestly, it is more likely that it was the then current activity of Qadhafi, the way in which he was responding to protest and his speech in relation to Benghazi that was far more influential than anything else. Maybe it built on what we knew about the regime, but I do not think we will be able to take that significant moment out of the calculations of how the coalition responded to Libya. I think that was probably more influential than its long-running concerns about the al-Megrahi decision.

Jon Davies: The context is that it wasn’t just the UK that was saying that what was being threatened against Benghazi was of a different order than anything that had come before. The same view was shared broadly through Europe and, more importantly perhaps, in the Arab League, which is what secured UN agreement. It wasn’t as if it was just something that the UK could do or was doing in isolation.

Chair: Minister, you said that you have got to go at 3.30, which is in 15 minutes’ time. We still have six groups of questions to ask, so I would be grateful if we could stay focused.

Q213 Mike Gapes: May I ask about our position with regard to military ordnance and other material? Your own travel advice warns that there are large quantities of unexploded ordnance and land mines in and around conflict zones in Libya still. What have we done to assist the process of clearing that? Could you tell us how much of that ordnance was sold to the previous Libyan regime by our Government?

Alistair Burt: In relation to the first, we have, through our activity and support in mine clearing and the like, bilaterally offered both support and assistance in removing it, and we have also been part of the UN process to do exactly that, too. So we are contributing materially to doing that. In terms of any ordnance that might have been from the UK in the past, I am not aware of any allegation-I am looking to Jon here-that that came from the United Kingdom.

Q214 Mike Gapes: We were selling military equipment up until February 2011, both under this Government and under the previous Government. Did that never include any of the items of ordnance?

Alistair Burt: As far as we are aware, no.

Q215 Mike Gapes: Perhaps you could write to us if that is not the case.

Alistair Burt: Again, under the previous Government and this one, whatever was sold to Libya had to conform with strict arms exports licensing, as we know full well and have discussed before.

Q216 Mike Gapes: That is crowd control-pepper gas, irritation and ammunition. All kinds of things were sold.

Alistair Burt: But not ordnance.

Mike Gapes: Not ordnance, okay.

Q217 Mr Roy: I have a quick question. Could you give us an update on the establishment of a UK visa application centre in Tripoli?

Alistair Burt: I can: it is going well.

Jon Davies: Absolutely. The good news is that we have agreement now with Libyans. That process is able to start, which is extremely good news. That is something we have been pressing towards for some time to try to make the logistics of it happen. That will happen, and it will be set in train. One of the things we have been conscious of is that it is an obstacle to British business opportunities in Libya, which were otherwise going very well, and we are getting a lot of support. We in the Foreign Office have worked very closely with the UK Border Agency to make that happen, and it will happen.

Q218 Mr Roy: Is there a time scale for that?

Alistair Burt: I am hoping to pay a visit quite soon.

Chair: Turning now to Tunisia.

Q219 Mr Roy: Minister, is the UK building relations from a low base in Tunisia? What are you doing to ensure that potential benefits accruing from the UK’s hosting of Tunisian exiles are realised?

Alistair Burt: I do not think the base was too low. Certainly it has changed in relation to Tunisia. I had the benefit of being able both to visit the previous regime and to visit after the revolution. Certainly, relations with the previous regime were a bit more controlled and formal. There was clearly a different atmosphere and relationship, but I didn’t get the sense that relationships were particularly low. Now, having paid a visit in the past few weeks and met the Minister for Overseas Investment, there is a sense that they are looking to the United Kingdom much more than they did in the past. We are seeking to make the very most of that.

Q220 Mike Gapes: When we were in Tunisia, and I say this in the context of being very much more positive about the prospects in Tunisia than in some other countries, we picked up concerns among some of the secular political figures, not just in Parliament, but outside in the civil society, about the influence of conservative Sunni ideology coming from some of the Gulf states-Qatar was mentioned in particular-and that there may be a more hard-line conservative agenda and a potential rise in Salafist groups, which do not seem to be very strong in Tunisia at this moment, and that the Ennahda party, instead of being moved to work with the secular side, might actually come under the influence of a more conservative side. Do you share that concern? Do you think it is real?

Alistair Burt: I would describe it as an ongoing debate in a society where, again, they are now free to have a conversation, which has been held for a long time, but probably more underground. I had a meal with a group of business people in the civil society in Sfax-away from the capital-and one of the things that they said, because we raised this question with them, was, "Remember that this conversation has been going on for a long time." This is nothing new about the relationship between religion and politics and political values. It has been under the surface for a while, but it is constantly considered and talked about.

Ultimately, an accommodation has to be reached between political parties themselves-those based on religion and their religious values and democracy-and an accommodation has to be reached between the people and the sort of political parties they wish to run them. At present, the evidence is that the majority party that won the election-Ennahda, which has an Islamist base-co-operates effectively with a secular party in government as a coalition, and, in the last couple of weeks, they have had to deal with some public protest where these issues have risen to the surface and tested the authority quite severely in terms of how they deal with them and how that society itself resolves those difficulties. They have been able to do so. It has not been without some discomfort, but they have been able to do so.

The ongoing process of the relationship between those elements that would have a greater adherence to certain religious values than political values is still to be debated. Again, in a conversation with a professional woman in Tunisia, asking her about what she thought about the future, she said, "If they do what they say, then it is fine. If the political parties do not deliver what they are currently telling the people, it will be very difficult." The truth is that that debate and that concern are there, but they will gradually be resolved. The important thing for all of us is that it is now able to be resolved in an atmosphere of openness and discussion and that is very different to the past.

Q221 Ann Clwyd: There were some concerns among various groups that, under the Arab Partnership Fund, funds were being disbursed mainly to organisations that had built up a relationship with the EU under the old regime. The point that they were making was that civil society is still developing and that we should be careful not to give all the Arab Partnership money to the ones that are already established, but rather to be on the lookout for new ones. Is that what you are doing?

Alistair Burt: Yes, I think we are pretty alert to that, but Jon has some more detail.

Jon Davies: It is potentially a risk or difficulty that we are looking at in not just Tunisia, but Egypt and other places, where it has been difficult for organisations to flourish. We need to be able to work with organisations that can deliver quickly and early. There is a tension there with dealing with ones who have been oppressed or pushed down, but we are looking as we increase substantially the amount of money that we are talking about being able to spend through the Arab Partnership. That is precisely what we are trying to do. We will not necessarily throw aside those relationships that we have worked up through the years in those countries, but we will also look for new opportunities as well, whether that is directly funding them ourselves or through the British Council or by working with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the BBC, the Thomson Foundation or others. Whether it is us directly or through partners, we are trying to ensure that we-to go back to the Minister’s previous point-are engaging across this new spectrum, which is now there, but used not to be.

Q222 Chair: Finally, what is the prospect of Tunisia becoming a major foreign policy partner of the UK’s? I know that we are building up our relationship there to good effect. How do you see the long term playing out?

Alistair Burt: At the moment, it is very positive. One important aspect of this is Tunisia’s commitment to greater Maghreb integration. The UK has long held that to be an important objective in the area, because it will do so much to ease the socio-economic pressures. With Algeria and Morocco developing a closer relationship than they have had for some time, Tunisia’s commitment to this, and new opportunities in Libya-the Tunisian Foreign Minister has been very active; he has visited here, and we have had a lot of contact with him-I think we are seeing the world and the region in a similar way. They have been very active in relation to Syria and very supportive in relation to regional issues, so yes, we do see the prospects for developing a good, sound relationship on foreign policy with friends in Tunisia.

Chair: That is very welcome. As we have got a couple of minutes before we go, do you mind if we just turn to Bahrain?

Alistair Burt: Of course not.

Chair: Ann Clwyd has said that she wanted to ask some questions on this.

Q223 Ann Clwyd: The Amnesty International report on Bahrain, which came out yesterday, was very critical. It said: "The human rights crisis in Bahrain is not over. Despite the authorities’ claims to the contrary, state violence against those who oppose the Al Khalifa family rule continues, and in practice, not much has changed in the country since the brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters in February and March 2011."

The most prominent human rights activist in Bahrain is presently on the 70th day of his hunger strike, and there is a lot of concern about him. I spoke to the Danish ambassador about the situation, and there is an argument apparently in the royal family over whether he should be released or not; some people argue he should be released. In addition, there have been activists in London demonstrating on the roof of the Bahraini embassy, and there are nightly attacks, apparently, in some of the Shi’a villages in Bahrain. Do you really think that the Formula 1 race should continue in the light of that situation in Bahrain?

Alistair Burt: You wrap up about five different issues in your question, all entirely pertinent, and I will try as best I can to deal with each one––briefly, Chairman. First, in relation to Mr al-Khawaja and the hunger strike, we share the concerns about this, and we have made representations in relation to this. I have spoken directly to authorities in Bahrain about it. We have been able to make a representation as a member of the EU because of the dual nationality in relation to Mr al-Khawaja, so on humanitarian grounds we have expressed our concern. We understandably hope that that is resolved by the authorities.

The Amnesty report is very new, and we are giving it examination, of course; it is a bit early to tell. It does not take into account, we can see, the National Commission’s report on progress in Bahrain, which was published on 20 March. Now, we may differ on this, but we see evidence of progress in relation to that. There is more to do in Bahrain. We make our position very clear, and we do make this clear to the Bahraini authorities: they know that the publication of the independent commission and its recommendations was not an end to the issue. The honest and frank assessment in that, unique to the area, was welcome and the right thing to do, but the implementation is crucial. There has been progress-

Q224 Ann Clwyd: It is too slow.

Alistair Burt: It has more to do, and the pace should pick up. The establishment of a police code of conduct, placement of cameras in interview rooms, the establishment of a media oversight body-these are not insignificant, and it is important that those things have been done, but we do make it clear that more progress should take place. There are clashes going on, but again we need to be clear about this.

The complexity of Bahrain and the reform process is that there are different groups with different expectations here. It is clear that in the middle, on both Shi’a and Sunni sides, there are those who recognise the dangers of the fragmentation of Bahrain-those who want Bahrainis to be Bahraini again and to see themselves as that, not divided. There is a strong body of moderate opinion in the middle. There are those on either side of that who are not necessarily committed to the same reform process, and while there are many people out on the streets with legitimate grievances-legitimate protest-wanting to urge the authorities to move forward, and with the genuine intent of reform, there are others who-

Q225 Ann Clwyd: Who represent the majority of the population.

Alistair Burt: Yes, but who wish to take forward reform in the manner that has been set out, and who wish to see progress in relation to that. There are also those on the street who do not share those objectives, and who are looking to provoke violence, which we condemn and which is wrong. As for the difficulties in responding to that, police tactics have changed over the past year. We would all acknowledge that. It was one of the failures that the Bahraini government made note of in the commission of inquiry and have responded to, but it is clear that such things are still going on.

Q226 Ann Clwyd: And Formula 1?

Alistair Burt: I shall come to Formula 1 in a second. I am just getting there.

Travel advice is our responsibility, in terms of safety and security. I spoke to our ambassador yesterday. I keep in frequent contact with him. He has not seen any reason to change markedly our overall travel advice. We draw attention to the fact that such incidents occur but, in general, that is not sufficient to deem travel to Bahrain to be unsafe-that is our major commitment to visitors there. Formula 1 teams are already arriving. It is not the United Kingdom’s position to say whether or not a Formula 1 race should take place. That is a matter for the Formula 1 authorities to decide on, and they have done so. Our responsibility is the safety and security of UK visitors, and that is covered by our travel advice, which is clear and honest.

Q227 Ann Clwyd: I think that the travel advice is ambiguous. We got it off the net this morning.

Alistair Burt: I hope it isn’t.

Chair: Rory, you were trying to catch my eye earlier.

Q228 Rory Stewart: Thank you very much, Mr Chairman.

Finally, Minister, are there any lessons that we have learned from Libya with regard to our problems in getting enough staff in on the ground, and the fact that the ambassador’s staff in Tripoli was very small until even two months ago? We had to close our presence in Benghazi, and we faced problems with communications consistently over three months.

Alistair Burt: May I ask Jon to deal with this?

Jon Davies: Certainly. I share the view that we were slow to go in.1 In such circumstances, making sure that we could actually operate safely and securely was key. We were obviously keen to get in as fast as we could. We did that, and our ambassador was in there ahead of, as it were, most of the comparable countries that had withdrawn their embassies. We have a presence there now. As with the previous two heads of mission, we have had the senior Arabic-speaking ambassadors in there with considerable-sized staffs, both in Tripoli and in Benghazi.

We do maintain a presence in Benghazi. That will be locally run, but part of our operations will widen out, quite rightly, and we will rely not just on diplomatic staff based in the UK, but on locally hired staff as well. I do not think that is something that is wrong. It is going to be part of the structure-it has been for a long time and will continue to be so.

Alistair Burt: Just to give an idea of the size of the embassy in Libya now, there are 20 UK-based staff from across Government; 60 locally engaged staff; a UKTI team of 10; a defence advisory team of 10; and six Arabic speakers in post. This is a significant embassy for us.

Q229 Rory Stewart: The entire UK-based political section in Tripoli at the time of our visit, doing political reporting, consisted of an ambassador, a DHM and a second secretary, who was covering press and public affairs and was running projects. It is a very small presence for a mission that the MOD probably spent $1.2 billion on, in the lead-up to that deployment.

Alistair Burt: We had to ramp it up, and we did, but understandably, conditions pertained that meant that we could not do that quickly or immediately.

Jon Davies: The political section of an embassy is not all that it is about. As the Minister said earlier, you have a broad relationship with a country, some of which is about politics, but you also have sections, as you well know, that look at defence, trade and investment, visas-we mentioned that earlier-and consular matters. The narrow political section is just one part of it. That is a mission that is delivering well. It is part of the key relationship that we have with the government, which the Minister described, and he is able to discharge that.

You mentioned communications. Briefly, there were difficulties; it is a difficult set-up to operate in. As with other parts of what happened in Libya, we are trying to learn from it about when we deploy, as we increasingly have to, in difficult and dangerous places at short notice.

Chair: Thank you both very much indeed. Minister, you have answered questions for more than two and a half hours. It is very much appreciated. It now falls to us to come up with some conclusions about where we are. No doubt we will return to this. The finishing line is not in sight at the moment-

Alistair Burt: Absolutely right.

Chair-but thank you for getting us round the first lap.


[1] Note by witness:  What I intended to say here was “I do not share the view that we were slow going in”.  The ongoing paragraph, in which  I state “we were obviously keen to get in as fast as we could.  We did that, and our ambassador was in there ahead of, as it were, most of the comparable countries that had withdrawn their embassies” demonstrates that my thoughts were that the FCO acted as speedily as possible. 

[1]

Prepared 19th July 2012