CHARLES GRAHAM - Courting tyrants can go too far...

BRITAIN would be a very isolated country if it only spoke to nations with whom it saw eye to eye on every moral issue.

It is in the nature of world politics, diplomacy and trade that you have to set differences aside and sometimes deal with characters and regimes with whom you may have many profound disagreements.

China’s human rights track record seems to be mentioned less and less these days as it emerges as one of the world’s most powerful new economies.

With so many other lands in dire straits, trade with the east is one of the few chances of recharging the economic batteries so it’s no wonder we are cosying up and holding back on condemnation.

And sometimes our leaders have to draw a line under past hostilities in the interests of national security.

“He’s a b****** but at least he’s our b******” goes the famous line about doing deals with despots.

And I will admit to being less discomforted at the time than some in seeing Tony Blair shaking hands with Col Gaddafi during those years of detente.

The feeling was derived from the fact that a hitherto sworn enemy - he had armed the IRA in the past which had led to so many terrorist outrages in our part of the world - was trying to draw a line under the past, whatever his motives may have been. At least if we had an (albeit uneasy) alliance with him, that was one less dangerous maniac with Britain in his sights.

But in the intervening years unease has grown at the lengths to which the last Government went in appeasing Gaddafi. Allowing the Lockerbie bomber to go home to die (he’s still clinging on now) two years ago was an extremely controversial act which still has a big question mark over it.

And now it is being suggested that MI5 (with probably ministerial approval) also sought to build bridges with the late colonel by betraying his opponents who had been holed up in Britain.

It is also alleged that Home Secretary Jack Straw authorised the rendition of Libyan opposition leader Abdel Hakim Belhadj.

Given the amount of legal loopholes Britain has been jumping through to get shut of “hate preacher” Abu Qatada over the last decade, this claim, should it be true, makes a mockery of extradition laws in view of the type of regime to which Belhadj was being given.

I hope for Britain’s reputation that these claims are a load of bunkum. Should they prove true they are damaging indeed and would be a demonstration that when dealing with the most unpleasant international leaders there are limits beyond which anyone should go in the name of bridge-building.