Simon Carr: A 'misunderstanding' (or two) on the road from Yorkshire to Libya

Sketch: No one could work out Mr Hague's joke – maybe it was one of those that sounded funnier than it actually was
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The Independent Online

it's hard to tell when William Hague is being the multi-lateral Foreign Secretary with the grandeur of the British apparatus behind him – and when he's sending himself up.

With wonderful comic timing, he told the House there had been a "misunderstanding" about the role of his recent SAS mission to Libya. He said it with such a straight face it was impossible not to laugh. In that dry, Yorkshire drawl such words as "welcomed diplomatic mission" butted up against "uncertain circumstances" and finished with the deadpan "misunderstanding about their role".

He'd choppered heavily armed Terminators into a revolutionary situation as a despotic African regime was collapsing. Armed to the wisdom teeth with scopes and sights and 23rd-century weaponry they went to offer aid and succour to the revolution. Take us to your leader, they cried. They were captured by half a dozen tribesmen carrying medieval farming implements and held in a shed.

Under the Equalities Act they were obliged to give up. It doesn't matter whether they meant to offend – if the revolutionaries felt offended, that is enough for a civil action to be launched. The law's the law. Values, you see. It's what we fight for.

The Foreign Office has snapped into action. Mrs Gaddafi's account at Harrods has been suspended and Colonel Gaddafi's hate speech has resulted in a visa ban for 25 of his associates. Yes, we mean it to sting.

It was time to be "bold and ambitious", we heard. The travel advice on Yemen had been changed and "the Palestinian delegation has been upgraded to mission". The embattled desert leader vowed "to fight to the last woman in Libya".

Mr Hague spoke of his plan to make Libya a magnet for positive change. No one could work out the joke – maybe it was one of those that sounded funnier than it actually was. I think he said something about the importance of crushing dissent in the name of security and that barriers were essential to the arms trade that employed so many British workers... to tell the truth, the old brain was wandering a bit and I may be working off last month's script.

Edward Leigh summed up the Tory realists, as he so often does. Given the fact that the Royal Navy consists of a fishing smack and two drunken sailors, what on earth did we think Mr Hague's blazing words meant?

After Iraq and Afghanistan, he said: "I don't detect the slightest appetite to get militarily involved in a third Muslim country." He didn't add: "God protect us from 'universal human values'," but there'll be many more opportunities to do so.