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In 2016 US President Obama criticised David Cameron and François Hollande for being “distracted” after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi and failing to implement a strategy for reconstruction. He said that the situation, with the establishment of ISIS in Libya, was a “mess”.

The UK government supports the Libyan Government of National Accord, as do most of its allies and the United Nations. It calls for the implementation of UNSCR 2259 of December 2015.

UK engagement with Libya has been hampered by the prevailing insecurity. The British Embassy in Tripoli closed in August 2014 and has not re-opened, although diplomatic relations have not been broken off; UK diplomatic staff conducts its business from the embassy in Tunis. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s advice is to avoid all travel to Libya.

The UK has participated in security operations in the Mediterranean, and in August 2016 provided a Royal Navy vessel to help remove the known materials from Libya which could be used in the manufacture of chemical weapons.

The UK government accepts that it has a shared interest with Libya and neighbouring countries to fight against terrorism. It says that the UK cooperates with Libya and its neighbours on counter-terrorism. The UK shares expertise on border security, working with the Tunisian Government to secure the Libyan-Tunisian border. This includes targeted training of the Tunisian border authorities, and provision of equipment.

The UK also supports the EU’s Navfor Med – Operation Sophia – which tries to police the waters off Libya to help control the refugee problem. In September 2016 HMS Diamond, a Type-45 destroyer, joined HMS Enterprise to participate in Operation Sophia.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee reported on the situation in Libya in September 2016. They concluded that the level of funding offered by Western governments to rebuild Libya was not at the root of the country’s collapse; that institutional weakness and the rapid deterioration in security made it difficult to help Libya recover from the conflict. A political settlement would be needed.

But collaboration with the UN-backed Libyan authorities has not been easy. The Government of National Accord was reluctant to give permission for Operation Sophia to operate in Libyan waters, and Libyan ministers have resisted offers of military training (after the disastrous outcome of the programme to train Libya soldiers in the UK).

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