Election 2015

Election 2015: Farage accuses PM over migrant deaths

Nigel Farage
Image caption Mr Farage says Christians in Libya have "almost nowhere to go"

Prime Minister David Cameron's bombing of Libya has "directly caused" migrant disasters in the Mediterranean Sea, UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said.

His comments came as hundreds of people are feared to have drowned after a boat carrying up to 700 migrants capsized.

Mr Farage told the BBC he did not have a "problem" offering refugee status to "some Christians from those countries".

Conservatives accused him of making "cheap political points". Nick Clegg said he had no regrets over Libya.

Speaking on BBC One's Sunday Politics show, Mr Farage said military action in 2011 had destabilised Libya and led to mass migration.

"The fanaticism of [former French president] Sarkozy and Cameron to bomb Libya - and what they've done is to completely destabilise Libya, to turn it into a country with much savagery, to turn it into a place where for Christians the situation is virtually impossible.

"We ought to be honest and admit we have directly caused this problem.

"There were no migrants coming across from Libya in these quantities before we bombed the country, got rid of [the then Libyan leader] Gaddafi and destabilised the situation."

He added: "I'm the one person that has said that I do think - especially for Christians in that part of the world - they now have almost nowhere to go.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The UN said on Friday migrant boats had carried 13,500 people into Italian waters in the previous week alone

"I have not got a problem with us offering refugee status to some Christians from those countries."

Speaking later on the campaign trail in Ash, Kent, Mr Farage said he believed the military action in Libya should be on Mr Cameron's conscience.

"After all, there are millions of people who blame Tony Blair for going to war on a lie and whilst Libya may be smaller scale, I think in foreign policy terms it's the biggest mistake he has made as prime minister," he added.

Deputy prime minister Mr Clegg said: 'I don't regret supporting intervention with other countries in stopping what would have been an absolute blood bath.

"Remember when Colonel Gaddafi was threatening to pretty well kill every single innocent man, woman and child in Benghazi and that was the trigger, which I think for humanitarian grounds quite rightly led to the response from ourselves and other members of the international community."

The Liberal Democrat leader added that this "large scale loss of life" in Libyan waters showed there was an urgent need for the European Union to "review arrangements because we just cannot on moral grounds have such large numbers of people dying in such regular intervals in the Mediterranean".

'Cheap political points'

Home Office Minister James Brokenshire accused Mr Farage of making "cheap political points" and argued that the situation required "action at an EU level", working with the African Union and others.

He told the BBC News channel: "In the wake of such an appalling tragedy, if all that Nigel Farage can do is to make, frankly, cheap political points - I think it shows his lack of understanding of the issues at hand here.

"The need is actually to use humanitarian aid and assistance to stop those flows - something that his party said it would slash."

Labour's shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said: "Today's dreadful and distressing tragedy shows how urgently we need EU and international action to prevent thousands of people from drowning off Europe's shores.

"The British government must immediately reverse its opposition to EU search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, as the EU needs to restart the rescue as soon as possible."

'Proud of action'

Conservative Culture Secretary Sajid Javid said: 'However difficult the situation in Libya is today - and it is challenging - just think what could have happened if Gaddafi would have got his way.

"So I'm proud of the action that we took with our allies, it was the right thing to do."

When asked whether the UK should take some of the migrants, Mr Javid said: 'I don't think that's what's required."

The ultimate solution is to help create a more stable and secure Libya, he told Sky News' Murnaghan.

"We provide aid to Libya along with our partners, we provide military training for its government and help in other ways and that's the only long-term solution."

A major rescue operation is currently under way after the vessel capsized in Libyan waters south of the Italian island of Lampedusa.

This year, at least 900 other migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean.

The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, said the latest sinking could amount to the largest loss of life during a migrant crossing to Europe.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Britain would offer the expertise of the National Crime Agency and the security services to help identify and target the traffickers.

Britain could also help by driving migration through its aid programme in the "key source countries", he said.

He is meeting his EU counterparts in Luxembourg on Monday for talks.

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