DAVID Cameron “bears some responsibility” for the stream of refugees fleeing to Europe from Libya, Ed Miliband insisted yesterday as he dismissed Tory claims that he was playing politics with the tragedy in the Mediterranean.
The Labour leader said it was “nonsense” that he was seeking to link British foreign policy to the deaths of hundreds in capsized boats after facing Tory claims of a “provocative and shameful intervention”.
Mr Cameron, back on the campaign trail after pledging UK assistance to rescue operations at an emergency EU summit, suggested the “ill-judged comments” raised doubts about Mr Miliband’s suitability for office.
He 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.”
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said it was “pretty distasteful to reduce this total human tragedy, hundreds of people dying in the Mediterranean, to a political point-scoring blame game”.
But Mr Miliband insisted he was simply raising the important issue of the failure of the UK and international allies to plan properly for the aftermath of the 2011 bombing that ended in the removal of the Gaddafi regime. While no direct link was made in the wide-ranging foreign affairs speech at the Chatham House think-tank, Labour made clear that his message would be that “the refugee crisis and tragic scenes this week in the Mediterranean are in part a direct result of the failure of post-conflict planning for Libya”.
Pressed repeatedly on the issue by journalists after the speech, he dismissed any suggestion that he was implying the PM had “blood on his hands”.
“Anyone who reads my speech would see that that is very, very wide of the mark. The only people trying to whip up a big storm about this are the Conservative Party,” he said.
“The international community as a whole, including our government, bears some responsibility for the crisis we see in Libya. I think that is undeniable.
“As far as what is happening in terms of the tragic scenes of people drowning in the Mediterranean, that is a result of the people traffickers who are engaged in those issues.
“But nobody can disagree with the idea that the failure of post-conflict planning has been responsible for some of the situation we have seen in Libya and, indeed, people then fleeing.” He said Mr Cameron failed to learn the lessons of the Iraq War.
He added that Mr Cameron was “wrong” to suppose the country could emerge from the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi without more outside help – claiming its descent into chaos “should have been anticipated and could have been avoided”.
“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 hopes only in principle,” he said.
Mr Clegg said “a considerable amount of thought went in by the international community” to the aftermath but it was “legitimate to say that things then spiral in directions that you can’t fully predict”.
Actress Angelina Jolie, a special envoy for the UN on refugee issues, told the UN Security Council yesterday that “it is sickening to see thousands of refugees drowning on the doorstep of the world’s wealthiest continent”.
She added: “No-one risks the lives of their children in this way except out of utter desperation.”