Liam Fox 'proud' of Libyan foreign evacuation efforts

image captionLiam Fox said the UK had shown it was "capable" of responding to events in Libya

Liam Fox has said the UK should be "very proud" of its efforts to evacuate foreign nationals from Libya.

It was "fashionable" to criticise the UK's response to the crisis and the speed with which UK nationals were pulled out, the defence secretary said.

But Dr Fox told MPs that attitudes to the UK's effort were "rather different" abroad than they had been at home.

Labour has accused the coalition of "incompetence" in its handling of the evacuation and overall Libyan policy.

At Prime Minister's Questions, Labour leader Ed Miliband said delays in getting British charter planes into Tripoli - which he described as a "flights fiasco" - was one of a series of government mistakes over Libya which showed there was "an issue of competence at the heart of this government".

Prime Minister David Cameron, who has previously apologised for delays in the evacuation process, said he would take "no lectures" from the opposition about dealing with Libya and defended the government's approach and the role played by Foreign Secretary William Hague.


Appearing before the Commons Defence Committee, Dr Fox said the UK had been able to deploy military assets effectively to pull British and foreign citizens out of Libya.

"We were actually well ahead of many other countries," he said.

"I know it is fashionable in the UK to say how far we were behind other countries but we have been evacuating hundreds of foreign nationals - in many cases many more foreign nationals with each movement of our assets than we have been evacuating British citizens..

"We have been doing a lot of the heavy lifting for other countries in this operation."

He added: "People say the UK is not capable of doing things. Not only were we capable of getting out citizens out but we were capable of getting many other foreign nationals out as well.

"The way the UK effort is viewed, increasingly, in the foreign press is rather different from the way it is viewed in the British press. And something we should be very proud of as a country."

'No policeman'

Dr Fox defended the UK's response to the uprisings in north Africa and the Middle East, arguing that the US and all major European allies had "all failed to spot" the wave of unrest which had occurred.

And ahead of a meeting of Nato defence ministers on Thursday to discuss events in Libya, he said the defence organisation faced "key questions" about its future role and whether it had the "political will" to deploy military assets where needed.

"We do not run the world and we are not its policeman," he added. "But, in partnership with other countries, we should be able to have greater effect than we do and that is not because Britain is unwilling to deploy its assets."

Labour has called on ministers to reconsider last year's defence review, which will lead to 8% annual cuts in the defence budget over the next four years, to ensure important capabilities are retained.

Dr Fox rejected this, saying the review was based on maintaining an "adaptable" defence posture and this was right given the "unpredictable" nature of future threats.

But Conservative MP James Arbuthnot, chairman of the committee, said in light of events in Libya and the cuts in the budget the UK must "reduce our rhetoric to those assets we can personally deploy".

And he said it was "unrealistic" to believe the UK could maintain its current influence in the world while scaling back its military forces.

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