Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Flannelling on evacuation while Tripoli burns

How embarrassing is this evacuation of British nationals from Libya becoming?

The situation in Tripoli, and in the desert camps where a number of British oil workers are stranded, sounds grave but the Foreign Office is getting hammered for its slow response to the crisis.

The government has been left struggling to provide a proper response to the Libyian crisis after the only plane it had so far chartered to fly into Tripoli was left on the runway at Gatwick airport last night because of a “technical fault”.

At least 300 Britons are in the Tripoli area, struggling to leave the country after scheduled flights were cancelled by commercial operators. Now it sounds like we're sending a holiday firm charter to rescue them. The aircraft, we're told, will leave "soon".

Britain was among the last of the European countries to scramble aircraft to Tripoli to rescue its trapped citizens.

French, German and Portuguese governments simply sent their aircraft into Libya while the British government held back a departure from Gatwick until landing permission was granted at Tripoli airport.

Even the Irish Air Corps is ahead of the British Foreign Office in attempting to get its people home from Libya, as protests against Muammar Gaddafi intensify.

Nine Air Corps personnel left Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel on Tuesday night in two aircraft to attempt to fly around 40 Irish citizens home from Libya.

A Learjet 45 and a Casa patrol plane have been on stand by in Malta since Tuesday to repatriate the group of Irish citizens

Royal Navy frigate HMS Cumberland was due to arrive off Libyan waters on Wednesday night, but there were no plans to get people offshore or for the vessel to dock in port.

Three British flights are due to be sent to Libya, with enough capacity to get all stranded Britons, but Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander said that this has not been the Foreign Office’s finest hour.

He said :”William Hague should explain why the government appears to have been slow off the mark when other countries have already repatriated a large number of their citizens.”

Hague said that he would not rule out sending military flights to rescue British oil workers in desert camps in Libya. There are reports that military assets are being lined up in Malta for an operation to get British people out, if necessary.

With Hague is left flannelling to make contingencies on the home front Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, who is meant to be minding the shop while Cameron is abroad, was off with his family on a half-term holiday.

Hague is due to fly to the US on Thursday, when the Prime Minister is due back from the Middle East.

Cameron, who sounded weak on sanctions yesterday while France sounded strong, has had to defend himself from criticism of trailing around the Gulf with a delegation of arms trade representatives in tow.

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