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Shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude
"What we saw was a dreadful, shambling, evasive peformance by Robin Cook"
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Foreign Affairs Select Committee's Donald Anderson
"We are very close allies with the US but we do not simply role over and say yes to whatever the question"
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Thursday, 3 May, 2001, 06:46 GMT 07:46 UK
Missile row intensifies
Menwith Hill communication centre, near Harrogate in Yorkshire.
UK radar bases will be needed if NMD goes ahead
Labour party backbench MPs fear the UK government has already pledged its support for America's planned missile defence shield.

The row over what attitude Britain should take towards so-called "Son of Star Wars" is intensifying a week before US defence experts visit the UK to discuss President Bush's proposals.

Alastair Campbell
Alastair Campbell: Missile defence "a good idea"
Downing Street has insisted that no decision has yet been made and the government will have to consider specific plans.

But many labour backbenchers and some ministers fear that a decision in principle has already made.

Their concerns were fuelled by comments by the Prime Minister's spokesman Alastair Campbell that broadly speaking missile defence was a "good idea".

MPs from a number of parties, including former defence minister Peter Kilfoyle, have joined together to urge the government to be cautious.

National missile defence (NMD) as sparked international concern and raised fears the UK could be turned into a missile target.

To work the system would need British radar bases such as Menwith Hill near Harrogate in Yorkshire

Campbell's comment

Opposition MPs have said decisions are being made by Tony Blair's spokesman rather than by the prime minister.

Mr Campbell's comment had come only minutes after Tony Blair refused to be drawn on the issue in the Commons.

Shadow defence secretary Iain Duncan Smith asked whether it was the prime minister's official spokesman and not Mr Blair who was running the country.

And Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Menzies Campbell asked why, if the government believed NMD was a good idea, Mr Blair had not told the Commons.

But Downing Street dismissed the attacks as a "fuss about nothing".

Labour chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Donald Anderson, insisted that what Mr Campbell had said was "still a long way from William Hague's blank cheque" of endorsing the US position.

George Bush announces 'Son of Star Wars' plans
President Bush insists NMD is vital for US defence
But he said he thought the more cautious line taken by Mr Blair during prime minister's questions was preferable.

A spokeswoman for Greenpeace said: "Tony Blair is looking increasingly like a puppet whose strings are being pulled first by Bush and then by his press spokesman."

Mr Blair had already insisted that he would not be drawn into a decision until a "firm proposal" was on the table.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon repeated Mr Blair's argument in Prime Minister's Questions that "we need to see the detail" before deciding.

He told BBC2's Newsnight: "We have made it quite clear that we would want to be helpful to the United States, we understand their concerns, they are our closest allies and they would want us to react to their proposal when it comes."

The US president announced on Tuesday that he was committed to building a global missile defence shield, in breach of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

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See also:

01 May 01 | Americas
Bush backs missile defence
01 May 01 | Americas
Hurdles for US missile defence plans
01 May 01 | Americas
Bush's missile defence diplomacy
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