No 10 chief of staff accompanied the Libyan militia to the meeting of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs | Lobbying

Mark Fullbrook, the No. 10 chief of staff, accompanied a controversial Libyan politician involved in an attempted military coup to a meeting at the State Department to lobby officials on foreign policy, it has emerged, prompting further raises questions about its influence.

Labor has said Fullbrook’s position as Liz Truss’ top official is “untenable” after it was revealed that he facilitated unofficial meetings with senior ministers of Libyan politician Fathi Bashagha in June. Bashagha, who is seeking international support as a rival prime minister, has ties to Russia’s Wagner group and a military strongman in the east of the country.

The Guardian has now determined that Fullbrook also accompanied Bashagha on a visit to the British Foreign Office on the same trip to London, as his PR adviser. Truss was then Secretary of State.

Just a month earlier, Bashagha had unsuccessfully tried to seize power in Tripoli by force, backed by a militia called the Eighth Brigade, against the UN-backed government.

Bashagha and Fullbrook met Stephen Hickey, a director for the Middle East and North Africa, despite it not being an officially organized trip by the UK government and needing to clarify to the UK ambassador to Libya that he was not a guest from the UK.

During the two-day visit, Fullbrook helped Bashagha lobby the government to deviate from the UN’s official position and support a rival government in Libya.

The Sunday Times revealed over the weekend that Bashagha met Kwasi Kwarteng, then minister of affairs, and Nadhim Zahawi, then minister of education, during an unofficial appointment to parliament. It also reported that Fullbrook had made efforts to influence Truss, despite No. 10 having previously told the Guardian that his company, Fullbrook Strategies, “didn’t lobby Liz Truss when she was Secretary of State”.

Fullbrook worked for Bashagha in the spring and early summer, before joining Truss’ leadership campaign and entering Downing Street in September.

Shortly after his visit to London, the select committee on foreign affairs held a rare groundless session via satellite link to Bashagha.

The session was highly unusual, as the committee was not investigating Libya at the time, it seemed unrelated to any other work, and it largely gave Bashagha a platform to lobby for British support.

In his bid to seize power, Bashagha made a pact of convenience with not only the powerful speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives (HoR), but also the military strongman of eastern Libya, Khalifa Haftar, a man accused of war crimes.

Fathi Bashagha
Mark Fullbrook is said to have worked for Fathi Bashagha (pictured) in the spring and early summer before joining Truss’ leadership campaign. Photo: Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images

Haftar’s Libyan Arab Forces (LAAF) bloodily besieged Tripoli in 2019-20 with the support of thousands of Kremlin-affiliated Wagner Group mercenaries. The brutal and economically damaging siege was only defeated when Turkey intervened to provide military training and equipment to the armed forces of the government of national unity.

Kwarteng has previously defended Haftar and wrote a pamphlet urging Britain to stand behind the strongman. He did so after a visit to Libya, where he met Haftar in partnership with Leo Docherty, now a foreign minister in charge of Europe.

Libya is roughly divided between two parties: one is based in Tripoli, dependent on Turkish support and led by Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, and the other is based in the east and dependent on support from Russia and the United Arab Emirates.

British Ambassador to Libya Caroline Hurndall has met with Bashagha on more than one occasion and the UK’s policy is to focus on UN-led efforts to get both sides to agree on the terms of national elections.

Downing Street was contacted for comment on Fullbrook’s role in the meeting. No 10 told the Sunday Times over the weekend that he had withdrawn from cases involving Libya. A spokesperson for Fullbrook told the paper: “These cases relate to Mr Fullbrook’s obligations long before he was involved in any government role.

“Mr. Fullbrook and Fullbrook Strategies have complied with all legal obligations and have conducted everything in an open and transparent manner. The Government was fully aware of all of Fullbrook Strategies’ and Mr. Fullbrook’s professional obligations prior to Mr. Fullbrook’s appointment as Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister.”

Fullbrook’s position was further destabilized on Sunday when he was forced to withdraw from discussions about changes to the government’s smoking strategy because of his past as a tobacco industry lobbyist. Fullbrook was commissioned by British American Tobacco and Philip Morris, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes.

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