UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has sidestepped calls to apologise for his comments about clearing bodies from a Libyan city.
Mr Johnson, who sparked outrage earlier this month for saying the city of Sirte could be like Dubai if the Libyans could “clear the dead bodies away”, was twice urged to say sorry during Foreign Office questions in the Commons. But he said the “best thing” the Government and MPs could do would be to “get behind” its plan to bring security to Libya, which he said would “do honour to all those who fell fighting Daesh in Libya”.
Mr Johnson was challenged by UK shadow foreign minister Fabian Hamilton to “directly apologise” to the families of the young men who died fighting in Sirte. Mr Hamilton said: “When challenged about his recent ‘clear the dead bodies’ remarks, the Foreign Secretary said that his only critics were those with ‘no knowledge or understanding of Libya’.”
He echoed calls from Guma El-Gamaty, the head of the Libyan Taghyeer party, who said it was “insensitive” to talk about the bodies as if they were an “obstacle to British businessman enjoying beer and sunbathing”.
But Mr Johnson replied: “I think that by far the best thing that this Government and this House can do is get behind the plan that this Government is promoting to bring security to Libya, security to Sirte, and that would do honour to all those who fell fighting Daesh in Libya – that is the way forward for that country and that is the course that we are promoting.”
It came after SNP MP David Linden (Glasgow East) called on Mr Johnson to “do the right thing and apologise, or will he resign?” over the comments made during a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference.
Mr Johnson replied: “We must all be aware of the reality in Libya and indeed in Sirte that there is a tragic absence of security and that the problems of that city have yet to be resolved.
“But when they are resolved, and they will be addressed and they are being addressed with the help of this country, then I think that the people of Libya do indeed have fantastic economic prospects – and that is the objective of this Government.”
Earlier this month, Downing Street rebuked Mr Johnson’s gaffe, branding his comments inappropriate, and when asked whether Mr Johnson should apologise, the Number 10 source said it was a “matter for him”.