Ed Miliband has insisted that the people smuggling migrants across the Mediterranean are to blame for the mass drownings in recent weeks – but refused to back down from his claim that inadequate postwar planning in Libya contributed to the crisis.
Conservatives said Miliband had implied David Cameron was a murderer for failing to be more engaged after the fall of the Gaddafi regime, which caused people to take desperate measures and flee the country.
Taking questions after a foreign affairs speech in London, the Labour leader suggested that “some of the situation” in Libya, including those trying to leave, was due to the “failure of post-conflict planning” after the UK-backed intervention in 2011.
Miliband said: “I think the only people who are trying to whip up a big storm about this are the Conservative party.
“If you listen to my words, if you listen to the speech I gave, it is clear what I’m saying, which is about the failure of the international community, and the British government, and David Cameron, to engage in that post-conflict planning which should have been done.”
Miliband was partially supported by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the former British ambassador to the UN, who said neither party could throw bricks at each other, but claimed that not enough had been done to support Libya and said there was concern in the Foreign Office.
Cameron had earlier described Miliband’s claims as rash.
The prime minister told a Tory rally in Lincoln: “Let me be clear about what Ed Miliband has said. I have learned as prime minister that it is so important in a dangerous and uncertain world that you show clarity, consistency and strength on these foreign policy issues. People will look at these ill-judged remarks and they will reach their own conclusions.”
William Hague, the former foreign secretary, who appeared alongside the prime minister at the rally, was more forthright on the issue. In a sign that the Tory leadership has decided the present and former party leaders should perform a soft-cop, hard-cop routine, Hague called Miliband’s remarks opportunistic.
“Foreign policy is not something that you can just discover 13 days before polling day,” Hague said. “This is the first time in five years that Ed Miliband has troubled himself to make a full-length speech on foreign policy. I have never known in that time the Labour party to set out a different policy towards Libya or the Arab world in general. He cannot come to foreign policy with some ill-judged and opportunistic remarks after five years and say: maybe this will tackle it.”
Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, said the row was manufactured by Downing Street because Miliband had not planned to make such an allegation in the speech on Friday at the foreign affairs thinktank Chatham House.
In his speech, Miliband said: “In Libya, Labour supported military action to avoid the slaughter Gaddafi threatened in Benghazi. But since the action, the failure of post-conflict planning has become obvious. David Cameron was wrong to assume that Libya’s political culture and institutions could be left to evolve and transform on their own.
“What we have seen in Libya is that when tensions over power and resource began to emerge, they simply reinforced deep-seated ideological and ethnic fault lines in the country, meaning the hopes of the revolutionary uprisings quickly began to unravel.
“The tragedy is that this could have been anticipated. It should have been avoided. And Britain could have played its part in ensuring the international community stood by the people of Libya in practice rather than standing behind the unfounded hopes of potential progress only in principle.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Alexander said: “This manufactured row is designed to obscure the facts. The speech rightly highlights the loss of influence that David Cameron has overseen, and it also highlights the widely accepted failures in Libya where the international community rightly took action to prevent Benghazi being turned into a slaughterhouse and then has abjectly failed to engage in post-conflict planning. That is widely understood and recognised.
“The state of Libya is a failure for postwar conflict planning for which the international community faces responsibility. I don’t think anyone disputes that we are witnessing a situation where Libya is perilously close to becoming a completely failed state on the southern shores of the Mediterranean. That is not a matter of dispute: that is simply a matter of fact.”
This article was written by Nicholas Watt Chief political correspondent and Patrick Wintour Political editor, for theguardian.com on Friday 24th April 2015 14.59 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010