Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has defended the former Labour government's relationship with the regime of the late Colonel Gaddafi, saying that they were based on "the right motive."
Speaking in an interview on Sky News, Balls said that he had never been in the same room as Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, Muammar Gaddafi's son, who was captured on Saturday. Saif Al-Islam is wanted on suspicion of crimes against humanity, but was once hailed as a reform-minded interlocutor with a Western outlook.
The Blair government was one of the first in the West to reopen a dialogue with the Gaddafi regime, following its renunciation of international terrorism and its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. The collapse of the regime amid brutal crackdowns on civilians was an embarrassment for the UK, which had courted Tripoli in an attempt to win lucrative contracts for its companies.
Several UK oil companies, defence suppliers and others, including pest control business Rentokil, won contracts in Libya after the rapprochement.
"There is no doubt that there were also business discussions and investment discussions, there were a number of important British companies trying to pursue projects, that wasn’t anything that I was ever involved in directly or indirectly so therefore I can’t comment on the detail. But I think it is the right thing for the British government to do, to try to make sure you ensure investment and jobs," Balls said.
However, he insisted that the primary motive of the government's engagement with the Gaddafi family was that of disarming the regime and furthering peace in the region.
"There is no doubt that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and our intelligence experts at the Foreign Office thought this is a very positive step forward for the world, for the prospects for disarmament and they went into it with open eyes but the possibility of progress," Balls said.
"Clearly Colonel Gaddafi ended up breaking agreements, not making progress and I don't think a Labour government or any government should have anything to fear from open disclosure because I know at that time the motive was the right motive."