UK Politics

Libya: Liam Fox brushes off cabinet rift reports

Defence Secretary Liam Fox with Chief of the Defence Staff General David Richards
Image caption Liam Fox says there is 'no disagreement' with Gen Sir David Richards

Defence Secretary Liam Fox has brushed off reports he has been "frozen out" of top-level Libya strategy talks.

He dismissed the reports as "media tittle tattle" and told the BBC he had been working closely with the PM.

The Mail on Sunday reported there was also "tension" between Dr Fox and the head of the armed forces.

Dr Fox said there was "no disagreement" with Gen Sir David Richards - it follows confusion over whether Col Gaddafi could be a target of strikes.

The UK, France and US have been enforcing a UN no-fly zone aimed at protecting civilians in the country after Col Muammar Gaddafi began using military force to crush the uprising against his 41-year-rule of Libya.

The defence secretary, in Brussels for a Nato meeting, told BBC One's Andrew Marr programme he was now "relatively optimistic" that Nato would now agree to take command of all coalition operations in Libya.

After suggesting on BBC Radio 5live last week that targeting Col Gaddafi himself could "potentially be a possibility", he told the programme on Sunday: "We don't target individuals. The aim of the UN resolution is very clear, it is about protecting the civilian population.

"If Col Gaddafi now goes, that of course is a bonus. Everybody believes that he is a liability to his people and to his country.

"Losing Gaddafi is an aspiration, it is not part of the UN resolution."

'Meaningless tittle tattle'

Dr Fox's words last week prompted questions to the head of the armed forces, Gen Richards, about whether Libyan leader Col Gaddafi could be a target. He replied: "No, absolutely not. It's not allowed under the UN resolution."

The Mail quoted sources suggesting Dr Fox's "loose words" about whether Col Gaddafi could be a target had caused "needless distraction" and saying the defence secretary had been left "on the sidelines" of top-level discussions about Libya.

Dr Fox told BBC One's Andrew Marr programme: "I know journalists have to earn a crust but frankly, some of us are more concerned at actually what's happening in Libya, what's happening in Afghanistan, the problems in the Yemen, how we look after our armed forces more than media tittle tattle.

"If what I read in the papers is true this morning, I must've been imagining all these meetings I've been at in the last three weeks and the phone calls late at night, including from the prime minister. Either it's meaningless tittle tattle or I have been working for absolutely no reason in the last few weeks."

He also denied reports of tension between he and Gen Richards on Sky's Murnaghan programme.

Dr Fox said: "We are involved in non-stop discussions, there's no disagreement between Gen Richards and myself, I meet Gen Richards four or five times a day and with all due respect to those who are writing column inches in the Sunday papers, I think we are in a better position to determine how well our working relationship is than they are."

United Nations Resolution 1973, passed last week, authorises "all necessary measures" short of an occupying force to protect citizens - but there have been questions about exactly what that could mean.

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites