Libya declares ceasefire

Foreign minister says an immediate ceasefire will be imposed after UN backs no-fly zone.

The Libyan foreign minister, Mousa Kousa, has told reporters that Libya will impose "an immediate ceasefire and stoppage of all military operations" against rebel forces.

Speaking to reporters in Tripoli, he said that the country will abide by yesterday's UN Security Council resolution calling for a no-fly zone and a ceasefire.

Kousa was critical of the "unreasonable" UN resolution, which allows the use of military power. "This goes clearly against the UN Charter, and it is a violation of the national sovereignty of Libya," he said.

He said Libya would "try to deal positively" with the resolution, and that a no-fly zone would "increase the suffering of Libyan people and will have negative impact on the general life of the Libyan people", as it will affect civilian as well as military flights.

This professed concern for civilians is a significant change in rhetoric from the Libyan regime. Just last night, Muammar al-Gaddafi warned that "no mercy" would be shown to the people of Benghazi.

It is far too early to tell how long a ceasefire will last, and whether this is a genuine laying down of arms or merely a strategic move to buy time. Oliver Miles, a former British ambassador to Libya, told Sky News: "I think he has taken a step that no one foresaw. It is very difficult to read Gaddafi's mind but I think he sees this as a way of holding back the military attack."

The next important thing to watch is the terms of the ceasefire and how it will be monitored: it is highly unlikely that the regime will allow rebel groups in Benghazi to continue with impunity, ceasefire or not. Will the UN be allowed into Libya for monitoring purposes? It's worth noting that Kousa refused to answer any questions after his announcement.

If it comes to it, it will not be difficult for Gaddafi to ramp up the violence again.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Why Theresa May can't end speculation of an early general election

Both Conservative and Labour MPs regard a contest next year as the solution to their problems. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as a Conservative leadership candidate was to rule out an early general election. After a tumultuous 2015 contest and the EU referendum, her view was that the country required a period of stability (a view shared by voters). Many newly-elected Tory MPs, fearful of a Brexit-inspired Ukip or Liberal Democrat surge, supported her on this condition.

After entering Downing Street, May reaffirmed her stance. “The Prime Minister could not have been clearer,” a senior source told me. “There won’t be an early election.” Maintaining this pledge is an important part of May’s straight-talking image.

But though No.10 has wisely avoided publicly contemplating an election (unlike Gordon Brown), the question refuses to die. The Conservatives have a majority of just 12 - the smallest of any single-party government since 1974 - and, as David Cameron found, legislative defeats almost inevitably follow. May’s vow to lift the ban on new grammar schools looks to many like an unachievable task. Former education secretary Nicky Morgan and former business minister Anna Soubry are among the Tories leading the charge against the measure (which did not feature in the 2015 Conservative manifesto).  

To this problem, an early election appears to be the solution. The Tories retain a substantial opinion poll lead over Labour, the most divided opposition in recent history. An election victory would give May the mandate for new policies that she presently lacks.

“I don’t believe Theresa May wishes to hold an early election which there is evidence that the country doesn’t want and which, given the current state of the Labour Party, might be seen as opportunistic,” Nigel Lawson told today’s Times“If, however, the government were to find that it couldn’t get its legislation through the House of Commons, then a wholly new situation would arise.”

It is not only Conservatives who are keeping the possibility of an early election alive. Many Labour MPs are pleading for one in the belief that it would end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. An early contest would also pre-empt the boundary changes planned in 2018, which are forecast to cost the party 23 seats.

For Corbyn, the possibility of an election is a vital means of disciplining MPs. Allies also hope that the failed revolt against his leadership, which Labour members blame for the party’s unpopularity, would allow him to remain leader even if defeated.

Unlike her predecessors, May faces the obstacle of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (under which the next election will be on 7 May 2020). Yet it is not an insurmountable one. The legislation can be suspended with the backing of two-thirds of MPs, or through a vote of no confidence in the government. Alternatively, the act could simply be repealed or amended. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have demanded an early election, would struggle to resist May if she called their bluff.

To many, it simply looks like an offer too good to refuse. Which is why, however hard May swats this fly, it will keep coming back. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.