UK businesses prepare to cash in

Trade

The Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, has urged British businesses to begin "packing their suitcases" and head for Tripoli to share in the reconstruction bonanza.

A day after the death of Muammar Gaddafi, Mr Hammond said UK companies had no time to lose.

"Of course I would expect British companies to be, even today, British sales directors, practically packing their suitcases and looking to get out to Libya and take part in the reconstruction of that country as soon as they can," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Last month Lord Green, minister for Trade and Investment, led a UK delegation, including representatives of BP and Shell, for talks in Tripoli with the National Transitional Council.

It is estimated that the rebuilding of Libya could earn foreign firms up to £130bn.

Before February's uprising, British business interests in Libya were put at £1.5bn, despite complications arising from the release of the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbasat al-Megrahi.

In 2004 Tony Blair lobbied Gaddafi on behalf of Royal Dutch Shell to secure a £325m gas deal in Libya.

British companies earned hundreds of millions from taking part in the reconstruction in Iraq. In 2006, three years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, The Independent revealed that 61 UK firms were benefiting from at least £1.1bn in contracts and investment.

Mr Hammond, who took over from Liam Fox as Defence Secretary last week after Mr Fox was forced to resign over his relationship with Adam Werritty, said that Nato chiefs would meet to consider whether the mission was complete before drawing up a timetable for disengagement. The Ministry of Defence confirmed the scale of the UK's support for the Libyan rebels. British aircraft flew 3,010 combat and combat support sorties since the start of operations in March.

Mr Hammond said Britain had particular reason to mark the death of the despot. "In the UK we have got the legacy of the Lockerbie bombing, the family of WPC Yvonne Fletcher, we have got thousands of people who have been affected by IRA activity over the decades fuelled on Gaddafi's Semtex," he told the BBC.

Meanwhile Downing Street said David Cameron discussed Libya in a conference call with the US President, Barack Obama, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, on Thursday night.

The Prime Minister's spokesman said future reconstruction contracts would be awarded under a United Nations tendering process.

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