Cameron comes out swinging on the Lockerbie release

Judging by David Cameron’s blistering new op-ed in The Times, it looks like the Tories were handed one hell of a campaign issue in Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi: Many will be disgusted by the suggestion that ministers in Whitehall encouraged al-Megrahi’s release — and did so for commercial reasons. Diplomacy often involves hard-nosed backroom deals. ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
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BIRMINGHAM, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 30: Conservative Party Leader David Cameron waits for play to start during day one of the npower 3rd Ashes Test Match between England and Australia at Edgbaston on July 30, 2009 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

Judging by David Cameron's blistering new op-ed in The Times, it looks like the Tories were handed one hell of a campaign issue in Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi:

Many will be disgusted by the suggestion that ministers in Whitehall encouraged al-Megrahi’s release — and did so for commercial reasons. Diplomacy often involves hard-nosed backroom deals. It would be naive to think otherwise. But there need to be lines you are not prepared to cross; values you will not compromise, whatever deal you broker. I believe even to hint that a convicted terrorist could be used as makeweight for trade is a betrayal of everything that Britain stands for.

Judging by David Cameron’s blistering new op-ed in The Times, it looks like the Tories were handed one hell of a campaign issue in Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi:

Many will be disgusted by the suggestion that ministers in Whitehall encouraged al-Megrahi’s release — and did so for commercial reasons. Diplomacy often involves hard-nosed backroom deals. It would be naive to think otherwise. But there need to be lines you are not prepared to cross; values you will not compromise, whatever deal you broker. I believe even to hint that a convicted terrorist could be used as makeweight for trade is a betrayal of everything that Britain stands for.

It could be that this reading of events is unfair and that the British Government played no substantive role in al-Megrahi’s release. Given that ministers are now shifting the blame between each other, that is an interpretation of events that is becoming harder to believe.

But if that is indeed the case, ministers must come completely clean about the extent of their discussions with both the Libyan and Scottish governments. They must do so to help to repair the damage to Britain’s reputation. And they have to recognise that the families of the Lockerbie victims want a closure that involves justice and truth, not an open-ended story that unravels leak by leak, spin by spin. If the Government cannot or will not provide an honest and complete account, the only other option is the one the Conservatives are demanding — a full examination by the relevant select committees.

The Government needs to understand that it cannot reject this as an overhyped summer story and dismiss these suspicions out of hand. This issue goes to the core of how this Government operates. Unless these suspicions are properly put to rest, the al-Megrahi case will mark another damning chapter in the sorry history of Labour’s years in power.

You can’t really blame Cameron for picking up the Megrahi case and running with it, though if this becomes a major campaign issue it’s not really going to help the perception that Cameron is content to run as the anti-Gordon Brown rather than present ideas of his own.

Hat tip: Small Wars Journal

Hamish Blair/Getty Images

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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