By a Newsnet reporter
Tony Blair’s version of events over the Prisoner Transfer Agreement he hatched with Colonel Gaddafi has been challenged after he claimed that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi had been “specifically excluded” from the secret deal.
The Scottish National Party has today accused the former Prime Minister of being “economical with the truth” after Mr Blair claimed in a New York Times interview that Lockerbie bomber Al-Megrahi was “specifically excluded” from the “prisoner transfer programme” when he left office.
Asked about a series of visits he made to Libya in order to speak with the former dictator Muammar Gaddafi and whether he had been seeking the release of Megrahi the former Labour leader replied:
“This really is objectionable. When I was British prime minister, when I left office, Megrahi was specifically excluded from the prisoner transfer program. In any event he wasn’t released under that.”
Mr Blair added: “Everyone is always saying, “Didn’t the Libyans ever raise it.” In fact they were always raising it, and I was always explaining the same thing to them which is there’s nothing that can be done about it. You have to go to the Scottish executive, not the British government.”
In fact, the Prisoner Transfer Agreement was not in place when Mr Blair left office. Correspondence between the Scottish and UK government’s indicate that a pledge from the then Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer to the Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill in June 2007 that “any Prisoner Transfer Agreement with Libya could not cover Mr al-Megrahi” was never honoured.
A letter from Lord Chancellor Jack Straw in December 2007 subsequently confirmed that “in view of the overwhelming interests for the United Kingdom”, Megrahi would not be excluded.
Mr Straw wrote: “I had previously accepted the importance of the al-Megrahi issue to Scotland and said I would try to get an exclusion for him on the face of the agreement. I have not been able to secure an explicit exclusion.”
In all, the First Minister Alex Salmond and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill wrote to the UK Government on eight separate occasions – and as late as September 2008 – insisting that Megrahi should be excluded from the terms of the PTA. However the UK Labour Government refused the requests because of trade and diplomatic factors with the Gaddafi regime.
Tony Blair’s claim that Mr Megrahi had been excluded from any PTA when he left office was further undermined when his former aide, who was with him at the time of the ‘Deal in the Desert’ John McTernan, claimed that al-Megrahi had indeed been part of the deal.
Speaking on Newsnight last summer, Mr McTernan said that the Libyan had been included in the deal in recognition of Gaddafi having given up nuclear weapons and that the British government would have been happy to see Megrahi sent back to Libya.
Commenting, SNP Westminster Leader and Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Angus Robertson MP said:
“Not for the first time, Tony Blair has been caught out being economical with the truth. The reality is that the Scottish Government repeatedly called on the UK Labour Government to exclude Megrahi from the terms of the PTA, but they reneged on their pledge to do so. It is inconceivable that it would have been any different had Tony Blair remained in office.
“The fact is – as we know from Sir Gus O’Donnell’s report – that the UK Labour Government did ‘all it could’ to facilitate Megrahi’s release for reasons of trade and diplomacy with the Gaddafi regime.
“Just as Tony Blair was incapable of telling the truth about the invasion of Iraq, he is being extremely economical with the truth about Labour’s hypocrisy over Megrahi.”
Controversy has always surrounded Mr Blair’s now notorious ‘Deal in the Desert’ with Gaddafi. In 2007 there was anger after details of the secret deal was made public by the then newly elected First Minister Alex Salmond.
The First Minister’s exposing of the secret negotiations between the British government and the former Libyan dictator led to an infamous spat between Mr Salmond and the BBC presenter Kirsty Wark. The BBC were subsequently forced to issue an apology.