The UK faces new demands this week to negotiate with Libya to secure compensation for victims of Irish republican terrorists who used explosives supplied by the regime of Col Muammar Qaddafi.
The families of victims of Libyan-provided Semtex have been told they should launch individual claims rather than rely on the administration of Boris Johnson to negotiate with any future Libyan government that emerges from the civil war.
But relatives say the suggestion is impractical and compared the government’s stance with that of the US, which passed laws in 2008 that allowed the Qaddafi regime to pay $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) in compensation for American victims.
The UK’s longstanding position has been not to pursue government-to-government negotiations with Libya on behalf of victims, a minister confirmed last month.
A prominent parliamentarian told The National that Britain should consider as a last resort vetoing the eventual return of £11.2 billion (Dh53.19bn) of frozen funds held in UK accounts until compensation is paid to victims of Qaddafi-era violence.
Reg Empey, a Northern Irish member of the upper house, said successive governments had failed to grasp the issue of compensation even when Libya was not divided between rival factions.
Former prime minister Tony Blair met Col Qaddafi in 2004 and struck a “deal in the desert” aimed at dismantling Libya’s chemical weapons programme. Col Qaddafi also agreed to payments to victims from the blowing up of a plane over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988, but did not address the issue of broader compensation claims for victims of Libyan-supplied explosives.
In a meeting before MPs in 2016, Mr Blair’s former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, denied that British commercial relations had prevented compensation claims.
He said compensation for victims had not been an “active issue” at the time and suggested it would be “cruel” to continue pressing the issue while Libya was embroiled in civil strife.
The regime of Muammar Qaddafi supplied guns and explosives to the Irish Republican Army in the 1970s and 1980s during its decades-long struggle for a united and independent Ireland.
A 1998 agreement ended the armed conflict while striking a power-sharing deal in the north between nationalist parties and unionists, who favour continued political links with mainland Britain.
But the issue of compensation has remained on the political agenda. The government last year appointed a “special representative” for victims of Qaddafi-sponsored IRA terrorism with a brief to investigate the probable levels of compensation.
Mr Empey and other campaigners last week met the special representative, former charity regulator William Shawcross, to discuss the progress of his work.
“We are all disgusted, humiliated and heartbroken that our own government did not pursue Qaddafi on this matter during 2008 and still feel this is a private matter that the victims must resolve by themselves,” said Jonathan Ganesh, a victim of the 1996 attack in east London that killed two and injured more than 40.
“Sadly, a number of the victims, who are in desperate need and have tried to resolve this injustice by themselves have taken their own lives due to the stress placed on them by the UK government with this appalling strategy.”
Reg Empey, a member of the UK’s upper house, said he remained “baffled” by the government’s position on refusing to negotiate with the Libyan State.
“The present position, whereby London agrees to encourage and facilitate individuals to take legal claims against Libya on their own, is unsustainable as well as inexplicable,” he said in a statement.
“The failure, so far, of the Government to promise to use its veto at the United Nations over the future release of Libyan assets – if there is no agreement for compensation from the Libyans – is equally frustrating and puzzling.”