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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: DAVID BLUNKETT, MP HOME SECRETARY MARCH 30th, 2003
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DAVID FROST: Although protests against the war continue, and there were some more yesterday, opinion polls suggest now that support is growing in this country for Tony Blair's handling of the conflict. Eighty-four per cent saying yes, we should finish the job, in one poll today. The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, is a member of the Prime Minister's war cabinet, so he's closely involved, and he's with me now. Welcome David.
DAVID BLUNKETT: Thanks very much indeed.
DAVID FROST: You - any comment on what you heard there from Boutros Boutros-Ghali?
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well I think he speaks from experience. I think there are real dangers that the coverage, in particular in the Arabic media, will harden hearts. And I think we've got a major task once the conflict's over to pull people on board, which of course is why Tony Blair spent so much time on the issue of Palestine and Israel.
DAVID FROST: Talking of Tony Blair, there was that story yesterday in the Guardian about the fact that there was going to be -well you know the story - Tony Blair was put on, this is the lead, Tony Blair was put on notice yesterday that he will face a fresh rebellion from Labour MPs within the next two weeks, if the war against Iraq drags on without a breakthrough. Is that likely?
DAVID BLUNKETT: No I don't think it is likely. I think those who take the view that Robin Cook has enunciated in his article today are mistaken. I think, for instance, Robin resigned with great dignity and put his argument with great force, but it's hard to retain that dignity or force if you advocate capitulation after just ten days. And I don't think other Members of Parliament will take that view. I think they realise that they had an argument, they put their argument, we voted on that issue and now we have to back our troops, we have to back those who are in conflict in bringing down Saddam Hussein and we have to ask everyone to answer the question "who do you wish to win."
DAVID FROST: So you think he resigned in a dignified way but he's been writing today in an undignified way.
DAVID BLUNKETT: I think it's very difficult after ten days to say pull out, leave a dictator in place, with all the power that that would give, not only to him but to other regimes across the world, and we have passed the point of arguing about whether we should have engaged in military action - we were long past it actually some time ago because when people signed up to 1441, including the support of very good colleagues who then disagreed, they must have known there were going to be consequences and of course we are facing, and our troops are facing, and their families are facing, those consequences. And that is the logical outcome of what was set upon in the autumn.
DAVID FROST: Sir Peter de la Billiere was saying just then, time is on our side. But in fact if this war went on - today it's six months to the day to the Labour Party conference - if this war was going on at the time of the next Labour Party conference, you'd have a very difficult time wouldn't you?
DAVID BLUNKETT: Would a conference in a prolonged confrontation be difficult? Yes it would. And I don't think there would be any mistake about that. It's ten days in and we've got arguments about military tactics. Ten days in and we're arguing about the tragedy of military and civilian deaths. Ten days in and there's an argument going on as to whether we should have had a blitzkrieg against Baghdad as opposed to trying to target very carefully the areas that we know have military targets rather than civilian ones, and we're getting criticised from both sides. Firstly one set of people saying this isn't fast enough, it's not tough enough, another set of people saying there are casualties, it should, there should be none. Well, I mean, that is the nature of trying to undertake modern technical warfare in circumstances where you want to minimise civilian deaths.
DAVID FROST: And the US, talking of civilian deaths, coming back to this country for a moment because the word suicide bombers that came up, came into this war yesterday, and then there were threats that there would be Iraqi suicide bombers, this country and the US have put up their alert level from yellow to orange and so on, are we in a similar state of extra added awareness, and are we prepared for the possibility about suicide bombers in this country?
DAVID BLUNKETT: You mean suicide bombers against our troops in Iraq or suicide bombers -
DAVID FROST: Coming to these shores.
DAVID BLUNKETT: We - our security services are monitoring all known dissidents, they're monitoring all those who might form a danger and of course they're reporting back on those who might have the capacity. It is impossible to provide a hundred per cent guarantee but from the knowledge I have, and I report to the Prime Minister direct on security matters, we do not believe that there is a heightened danger.
DAVID FROST: And in terms of this country, though, I mean there have been various warnings, there was one by the Prime Minister back in January, that some sort of terrorist attack on Britain was inevitable at some point and so on, is the likelihood of that less now or more?
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well we get general indications from the security service that there is heightened danger from time to time and we try and ensure that people know. We had that in relation to Heathrow and other targets just a few weeks ago and we took the necessary precautionary action. We'll always do that when we believe that there is a danger and if there's a specific danger we'll obviously ensure that people know that they can help to protect themselves. We've always used the term alert but not alarm and I use it now because there is no specific danger, there is no indication that there is a heightened threat to this country from suicide bombers or others working alongside the Iraqis.
DAVID FROST: There's no sign of that at the moment.
DAVID BLUNKETT: No there isn't and we will take every possible action, precautionary action, when we believe that is the case.
DAVID FROST: And you're, David, you're just about to fly to Washington to have sessions with Tom Ridge, the head of homeland security in the States, who has just said he'd like another three and a half billion dollars to deal with the new challenges, new problems, new dangers and so on, are you making a similar request to the Prime Minister?
DAVID BLUNKETT: (LAUGHS) I'm going to talk to Tom Ridge about how we might share not only intelligence and information about what works and what doesn't, but also share technologies, share information about the specific practical ways in which we can protect ourselves and share issues around vaccines and new techniques. I'm also going to talk to John Ashcroft, the Attorney General, about a new extradition treaty with the United States, which I expect to sign with them, and I'm going to talk to other politicians about how we look to the future in terms of security and liberty being balanced, how we look to the future after the conflict in terms of rebuilding a world of mutuality rather than people going it alone - and when I say going it alone, I mean pulling the United Nations together to understand that if we allow rogue states as well as terrorist groups to simply roam across boundaries, to simply be able to take action, we actually disable ourselves from that mutuality and interdependence, which comes not from the threat from democracies but from those who would disable those democracies.
DAVID FROST: And in terms of the tragic situation of our two soldiers, the Sapper Luke Allsopp and Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth, that were it was rumoured that they had been executed and then the MOD said they hadn't but that they'd died in combat, what is the truth of that situation now that you've looked into it?
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well the situation is that I think we should allow the families to grieve, to understand that their sons and loved ones died as part of the conflict with heroism and I think it's better, as it has been in every other conflict, that we don't go into the minute detail which would only cause distress to them.
DAVID FROST: I know what you mean but in this case it was the Prime Minister who went into minute detail and he introduced the word executed to the entire world at that joint press conference with President Bush. So, I mean, you're saying he was wrong to do that?
DAVID BLUNKETT: No, I'm saying nothing about the absolute detail. I think it's better that we allow the families to grieve and I think all of us need to be cautious because there is a very fine line between people dying in combat and the way in which the Iraqis themselves behave towards other human beings. We've seen it with the suicide bomber, we've seen it with the way they treat their own people. You know, ... of -
DAVID FROST: But they would - but if they -
DAVID BLUNKETT: ... by themselves is execution.
DAVID FROST: Say that again.
DAVID BLUNKETT: Hundreds of thousands of their own people killed over the last 20 years by the Iraqi regime is execution.
DAVID FROST: That is. But these two guys, these two brave guys, were not executed were they?
DAVID BLUNKETT: Forgive me. I'm not going to open up -
DAVID FROST: All right, but in that particular case though, the Prime Minister shouldn't have said it.
DAVID BLUNKETT: I - of - if you expect me to criticise my prime minister I'm certainly not going to do it.
DAVID FROST: I thought you might not but it's a very strong point, it's this -
DAVID BLUNKETT: It's not as strong a point as the simple fact that these men gave their lives -
DAVID FROST: Absolutely.
DAVID BLUNKETT: - and others are giving their lives in order to free the Iraqis, in order to get rid of a tyrant. We need to back them with everything we've got and I appeal to everyone who now believes that there is moral equivalence between the Saddam regime and, and the democracies and what we're trying to do, to think again, including those who are behind enemy lines.
DAVID FROST: But people do always say, you know, that truth is the first casualty of war, and you do end up with half truths in a war, in general - like the uprising in Basra, like the 120 Iraqi tanks that turned out to be three and so on.
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well those weren't, those weren't remarks made by politicians. This is where we've got - what? - 2000 journalists either with or just behind our troops. We've got people from the broadcast media behind enemy lines in a way that we've never, ever, ever seen before. Well, you know, we're going to get daily, hourly, almost momentarily, information and misinformation and that is the nature of this open debate.
DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed.
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