Libya to cost Britain dear

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THOUGH Muammar Gaddafi has been one of the world’s most oppressive dictators for more than four decades, the bloody Libyan uprising against the tyrant still seems a long way from Britain, and of little consequence to these shores.

But when one considers the number of Britons stranded in the desert because of the Foreign Office’s pedestrian response, and how fuel costs could eclipse £6 a gallon because of the turbulence in the Middle East, its significance is clear.

A price that every UK household will pay, it is likely to see inflation escalate further and pre-empt an early rise in interest rates – rising haulage costs will lead to consmers paying even more in the shops.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, will be both negligent and culpable if he does not address this issue in next month’s Budget and, specifically, the fuel duty escalator that he adovcated prior to last year’s election.

In the meantime, the Government must prioritise the prompt and safe evacuation of UK nationals still stranded in Libya; people who have watched in bewilderment while other countries took swift action.

William Hague and his faltering Foreign Office are not solely to blame; those multi-national firms that hired oil workers, engineers and others to work in Libya have a duty of care towards their staff.

That said, it does not excuse David Cameron for taking a week to recognise the scale of the crisis. His much-vaunted National Security Council should have met for the first time last weekend rather than yesterday morning.

The Prime Minister has called for asset seizures and travel bans as Gaddafi and his family lose their grip on power. Again, Mr Cameron is a week late. These should already be in place; they should not be a matter for discussion as the death toll mounts and the West contemplates military action to prevent genocide from being committed.

Yet Mr Cameron is not the only leader who has betrayed those UK workers based in Libya – and the courageous liberators determined to end Gaddafi’s tyranny. For where, as the world watches on, is Tony Blair – the supposed “peace envoy” to the Middle East whose handshake, and trade talks with Gaddafi in 2004, look more grubby with every passing hour?