BP – Was There A Deal?

British PM David Cameron condemned the release of Pan-Am bomber, al-Megrahi, but did his predecessors make a deal with Libya?

Did BP secure the release of the Lockerbie bomber? 

It is complicated. BP denies that it lobbied the Scottish government over this. It may have had contact with the British government, but the British government had no power to release al-Megrahi.

Did Tony Blair or Gordon Brown make a deal with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi? 

Yes. Negotiations began when Blair was Prime Minister and concluded when Brown had taken over. The deal, however, was a Prisoner Transfer Agreement, which the British government always claimed did not cover al-Megrahi. The Libyan government seemed interested in only one prisoner, indeed it is not clear that any other Libyan nationals were being held in British jails at the time.

Did BP benefit from this deal? 

Yes. It got the go ahead for oil exploration in Libya very soon after the agreement was signed. There was, however, very little actual progress until Megrahi was actually released.

So who released Megrahi and why? 

Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill took the decision on “compassionate grounds”. But if you look at his speech making the announcement he is teasing his audience, deliberately keeping people guessing to his actual decision until the end. The relatives of the 270 people killed in the atrocity had not been warned in advance and he deliberately kept them in suspense. This is not the behaviour of a compassionate man.

So was there a deal at all? 

Not a formal deal. The Scottish government – like a US state – is prohibited from conducting foreign policy and the British government could not have released someone held in a Scottish jail. I don’t believe there can have been a three way agreement either. Sadly, I don’t think either Gordon Brown or Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, would have had any moral qualms about doing a deal with Gaddafi, but they are vicious political rivals and would never have done a deal with each other.

So why did Blair hold those negotiations? 

I think it was his intention to release al-Megrahi. Up until 2007, the Scottish government was controlled by Blair’s Labour Party, and he could have delivered on a deal. When Labour lost the 2007 Scottish elections to the Scottish National Party (SNP) this would have fallen through.

So what happened then? 

I suspect the Scottish government reached an informal understanding with Libya. The British oil industry is based largely in Scotland. If BP wins major contracts, a lot of the jobs go to Scottish people.

So the British government was out of the loop?

By this time, yes. But the Labour government under Blair seems to have been very close to reaching a similar agreement two years earlier.

Are there any other reasons why the Scottish government might have released Megrahi? 
The official reason of ‘compassion’ lacks credibility, and seems to be bogus anyway. Far from having three months to live, Megrahi is still alive a year later. It might have been politically popular for Salmond and MacAskill to thumb their noses at the US government, but quite a few of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing were Scottish. Reactions by Scottish relatives were sure to be unpredictable, and could have had serious political consequences.

Article provided by Quentin Langley
Lecturer in PR and Political Communications,
School of Journalism, Cardiff University

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