The removal of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011 has been a “tragedy so far” for the people of Libya, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “we were way over-optimistic” about Libya’s future, adding that the elections of 2014 “made things worse”.
His comments came after a two-day visit to Libya, where he urged rival parties to compromise and unite the country.
Mr Johnson pledged £9m to help tackle people trafficking and terrorism.
In a landmark meeting, Mr Johnson became the first senior Western politician to visit the Libyan military commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar on the ground at his home base near Benghazi.
He said Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who controls eastern Libya, has pledged to give up military rule if he becomes the country’s president.
Mr Johnson said he pushed the point of political compromise to Libyan politicians.
He said: “I think the politicians need as it were to suppress their own selfish interests, compromise for the good of the country and get behind the UN plan.”
But he said he told Libyan politicians to learn from UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s mistake – and not to hold an election before they were ready.
“Much more divided”
Oliver Miles, the UK’s former ambassador to Libya and deputy chairman of the Libyan British Business Council, said that Mr Johnson’s visit was a “useful and good follow-up” to the French president’s meeting during which Field Marshal Haftar and his rival, the UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, agreed to a ceasefire.
But he told the Today programme it was “misleading” to think of Libya as divided into two parties, adding that it is much more divided than that.
Though it is six years since the removal of Col Gaddafi, he said: “There’s been a complete breakdown of government authority – Libya is not in a state of civil war – it would be more accurate to describe it as in a state of anarchy.
“There is no government authority who runs the country and there are large parts of it where there is no government at all”.
Shortly after Col Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011, thousands of Libyans turned out to cheer former Prime Minister David Cameron and then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Benghazi – hailing the pair as heroes for their support.