Libya must learn from Theresa May's election gamble, warns Boris Johnson

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Boris Johnson was plunged into fresh controversy today after warning anarchy-ridden Libya to learn the lesson from Theresa May’s disastrous decision to call a snap election.

The Foreign Secretary told Libya’s UN-backed prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj that the June election, called by Mrs May amid Tory hopes of a landslide victory, had not gone “entirely to plan”, according to the BBC. 

“We have had an election since I last saw you [in May],” Mr Johnson said. “It went more or less to plan. Well, not entirely to plan. It is a bit of a lesson, which is that if you are going to have elections, you have got to get ready.”

He made the remarks on Wednesday during a two-day visit to the north African country, where he urged military and political leaders to work together for peace and stability.

In an interview yesterday with the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent James Landale, Mr Johnson added: “We have been encouraging them [Libyan politicians] … telling them about what it takes to fight an election, warning them about some of the pitfalls in calling elections too soon or whatever, which is one of the risks they face here because they haven’t got their ducks lined up properly.”

The Conservatives lost their majority in the snap election. Sources close to Mr Johnson insisted his comments were not meant as criticism of the campaign or Mrs May.

Rather, they were simply to highlight the risks of going to the country and that taking time might allow Libyan leaders to better sort issues and make progress.

A spokesman said: “It is a well known fact that elections can be uncertain and we want the Libyans to get this process right and not rush it.”

However, ex-Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown said: “One of the first rules of diplomacy is that you shouldn’t insult your own country abroad.

The Foreign Secretary’s efforts to promote peace in Libya are admirable, but perhaps they would be better expended on his own warring Cabinet.”

A senior Tory MP added: “I’m stunned that the Foreign Secretary is using the UK as an example not to follow when dealing with friends that we are seeking to influence.”

On the BBC Today programme this morning, Mr Johnson accepted that Britain had been too optimistic following the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, which plunged Libya into chaos. Since 2014 the country has had rival governments in Tripoli and the east. 

He added: “We thought that the elections in 2014 would be a solution and actually they made things worse. That’s the point I’ve been making over the last couple of days to people in Libya.

“They need to glue back together the two sides of the country, they need to come together with a political agreement. I think that politicians in Libya need, as it were, to suppress their own selfish interest to compromise for the good of the country and get behind the UN plan.”

Mr Johnson’s trip was the first visit to Benghazi in eastern Libya by a government minister since the Anglo-French military operation in 2011 which led to the toppling of Gaddafi. 

It was also the first time Mr Johnson had met Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, head of the Libyan National Army, as well as members of the House of Representatives representing Benghazi.

Mr Haftar is the dominant figure in eastern Libya. Since early last year he has spurned the UN-backed Government of National Accord in the capital, Tripoli.

The GNA, hampered by infighting and its failure to win endorsement from eastern-based factions, has largely failed to extend its authority or end the turmoil in the country. 

Libya has become the main departure point for migrants catching boats to Europe and Islamic State established a regional stronghold in the coastal city of Sirte, which the group has since lost. Mr Johnson rejected calls for a pause in the military action to destroy IS in its Syrian base of Raqqa but raised concerns over the number of casualties.

He branded Donald Trump’s response to clashes between white supremacists and protesters in Virginia as “totally wrong”. He condemned the US president for failing to make “a clear and fast distinction” between fascists and anti-fascists after violence this month.

Mr Johnson also appeared to concede that Britain would have to pay a bill to leave the European Union. “Some of the sums that I’ve seen seemed to be very high and, of course, we will meet our obligations,” he said.

“We have to meet our legal obligations as we understand them and that’s what you’d expect the British government to do.”

He dodged questions on whether he would support a transition deal of up to three years, backed by Chancellor Philip Hammond, which would allow for temporary arrangements on trading conditions after Brexit.

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