Military action begins in Libya as the allies open fire

French fighter jets reported to have destroyed four Libyan tanks.

Military action has begun in Libya, with France leading the way. A French plane is reported to have fired on a Libyan military vehicle in the first air strike of the campaign. As many as 20 of the country's fighter jets are patrolling the skies over Benghazi in an attempt to enforce the no-fly zone.

In a typically assured statement outside the emergency conference in Paris, Nicolas Sarkozy has declared that "France has decided to take up its role in front of history". David Cameron has conceded that there will be "unforeseeable consequences" of taking action, but has insisted, Blair-like, that it is better to intervene than to "risk the consequences of inaction".

He said: "Colonel Gaddafi has made this happen. He has lied to the international community, he has promised a ceasefire, he has broken that ceasefire. He continues to brutalise his own people and so the time for action has come. It needs to be urgent. We have to enforce the will of the United Nations and we cannot allow the slaughter of civilians to continue.

"What is absolutely clear is that Gaddafi has broken his word, he has broken confidence and continues to slaughter his own civilians. This has to stop. We have to make him stop and make him face the consequences. I think action must take place urgently."

For now, the declared aim remains to protect the people of Libya; both Cameron and Sarkozy have been careful not to give voice to the ultimate objective of regime change. It remains unclear how the allies will respond if Gaddafi refuses to give way. Meanwhile, there are reports that the rebels have admitted that they shot down their own plane this morning.

UPDATE: French fighter jets have destroyed four Libyan tanks in air strikes to the south-west of Benghazi, according to al-Jazeera.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.