Britain expelled the remaining staff of the Libyan embassy yesterday as it granted political recognition to the country's opposition in the latest attempt to strike a telling blow against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime.
Amid increasingly frantic diplomatic moves five months into a bombing campaign against the Libyan dictatorship, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said that Britain could free frozen funds for the Libyan opposition.
Battling against the spectre of a long stand-off between Col Gaddafi's forces and the National Transitional Council (NTC), Britain would invite the opposition body to send a diplomatic envoy to take over the Libyan People's Bureau in Knightsbridge.
The announcement that the current charge d'affaires was going brought a new twist to the long-running controversy over the mission.
As far back as 1980 the embassy hit the headlines after the ambassador publicly threatened two dissidents. The embassy was closed in 1984 after its officials shot policewoman Yvonne Fletcher. "The prime minister and I have decided that the UK recognises and will deal with the NTC as the sole governmental authority in Libya," Mr Hague said.
"In line with that decision we summoned the Libyan charge d'affaires to the foreign office today and informed him that he and the other regime diplomats must leave the UK."
It is believed there are eight staff at the Libyan People's Bureau. Staff will be given a few days to leave the country.
The foreign office took the decision after a meeting of the National Security Council on Libya on Monday.
Mr Hague said Britain is unfreezing assets worth £91m (€103m) to the Arabian Gulf Oil Company, which is effectively controlled by the NTC. The funds would help it provide supplies of fuel and pay wages.
Dominic Grieve, the attorney general, had blocked earlier attempts to fund the opposition with frozen funds on the grounds that Britain continued to maintain diplomatic relations with Libya.
The British embassy in Tripoli was shuttered after the Nato bombing campaign in mid-March.
Five staff described as fanatical regime loyalists were expelled within weeks.
However, the announcement added to concerns that the Government was groping for measures after five months of attacks failed to oust Col Gaddafi.
Col Bob Stewart, a Conservative MP and former UN commander in Bosnia, said that only political or diplomatic efforts could surmount military failures of the campaign. (© Daily Telegraph, London)