George Osborne said it would cost tens, not hundreds of millions. Now the government has had tell the truth. The war in Libya in just over two months has cost Britain £260 million.
23 June 2011
The government has revealed that the cost of the operation in Libya has run to £260m, confirming the figure was higher than had initially been predicted.
In a written ministerial statement, the defence secretary, Liam Fox, said costs for the initial operation would be £120m, while the cost of replenishing spent munitions could eventually reach £140m.
The high costs – which the Treasury has agreed to meet – were attributed to the advanced nature of the weapons used in Libya.
While the opposition backs the operation, it has pressed for details of expenditure to be revealed amid concern that the cost is escalating.
Earlier in the year, the chancellor, George Osborne, said in the Commons that the eventual cost would be "in the order of tens of millions of pounds, not hundreds of millions".
But in his statement, Fox said: "The current estimate of the net additional costs of military operations for six months in support of Operation Ellamy – the United Kingdom's contribution to coalition operations in support of United Nations security council Resolution 1973 – is in the region of £120m. This excludes costs associated with capital munitions expended.
"Based upon current consumption rates, we estimate the cost of replenishing munitions may be up to £140m."
Prior to his announcement, he had said people would "have to take into account that we have used more expensive precision weaponry so that we minimise civilian casualties in Libya".
He added: "If we are going to fight operations in the future based on minimising civilian casualties, there is clearly a financial price to pay.
"I think that shows that we are on the moral high ground and that we place a higher value on human life than the Gaddafi regime."
Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, backed calls from service chiefs for contingency plans to be drawn up "to ensure that our armed forces are sufficiently equipped and that the conflict is sustainable beyond September".
He also urged Nato allies to do more to help reduce the British contribution.
Murphy said: "Thanks to pressure from the opposition, ministers have now published figures revealing that the costs of the operation in Libya are higher than originally estimated.
"We back the Nato-led operation, and continue to offer the government our support wherever possible.
"We want the government to be clearer on what stresses and strains operations in Libya are making on the core defence budget, and whether our standing commitments are, or will be, affected by the ongoing conflict.
"In particular, we will ensure the government keeps to its guarantees that the mission in Afghanistan will not be affected. That is absolutely vital."
In March, Osborne had told the Commons: "The House will understand that it is too early to give a robust estimate of the costs of the operations in Libya, but I can say that they should be modest compared with some other operations, such as Afghanistan.
"The Ministry of Defence's initial view is that they will be in the order of tens of millions of pounds, not hundreds of millions. I can tell the House today that, whatever they turn out to be, the additional costs of operations in Libya will be fully met from the reserve."
The national transitional council in Libya is also struggling to meet the costs of running an alternative government to that of Muammar Gaddafi.
This week, Dr Ali Tarhuni, the minister for finance and oil in the council, wrote an open letter to the UK government, calling for the release of 1.4bn dinars (£700m) of Libyan government money (£700m), printed in the UK, that was impounded in Britain when the fighting began.
The transitional council is running out of money and would like the government to release the funds, but the attorney general, Dominic Grieve, has said he is legally unable to do so.