When the British Government sanctioned the release of the Lockberbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, they would have hoped that, after an initial outcry about his release, the matter would die down and something else would fill the news bulletins.
But this Government has made an artform of creating a crisis out of a drama, and, if anything, two weeks after Al Megrahi’s release, the diplomatic row is intensifying.
Yesterday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was forced to break his silence on the matter, after letters disclosed the Libyans were told that Mr Brown and David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, did not want Megrahi to die in jail.
Brown insisted the final decision to free Al Megrahi had been taken by the Scottish Government alone, saying: “There was no conspiracy, no cover-up, no double dealing, no deal on oil.”
But to Brown’s dismay, the US Congress is now being urged to probe whether an oil deal may have played a role in Al Megrahi’s release, despite Brown’s denial of any such agreement. Democratic senator Frank Lautenberg has now demanded a Senate investigation into allegations an oil deal was brokered.
Lautenberg, who is renown for “his decades-long campaign against” the Libyan leader Colonel Gadhafi, called for a probe into al-Megrahi’s release in a letter Wednesday to the Foreign Relations Committee.
The British Conservative leader David Cameron has now also called for a public inquiry into the release of Megrahi, claiming that Brown stands accused of double dealing: saying that he did not intervene but at the same time letting the Libyans know he did not want Megrahi to die in prison.
Cameron said:”For weeks [Brown] has been refusing to say publicly what he wanted to happen to Megrahi. Yet we learn, apparently, privately the message was being given to the Libyans that he should be released.”
Meanwhile the row continues in Scotland where the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) lost a “symbolic” vote on the issue. Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Tory leader, accused the SNP leader Mr Salmond and Mr Brown of indulging in “nudge-and-wink diplomacy” over Megrahi’s fate.
And that is the bottom line: we may never be able to “prove” that there was a conspiracy over an oil deal over Megrahi’s release. But the British knew – and had been warned – that the Libyans viewed the prospect of Megrahi dying in the UK as “catastrophic“.
So British interests in Libya have been radically enhanced by this move – even if the special releationship with the US is slightly dented. But the British are set to gain more with the Libyans than they will lose with the Americans.
We should watch to see how well BP and Shell do in the next few months in Libya.
But if a document does exist showing some kind of oil deal, then Brown would be politically finished…