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Monday, 29 July, 2002, 06:45 GMT 07:45 UK
Blair warned on Iraq war
Tony Blair and George W. Bush
Blair should 'warn' Bush to abandon Iraq war plans
A war against Iraq could cost Tony Blair his job, former Labour MP Tony Benn has warned.

The former MP for Chesterfield said Mr Blair could suffer the same fate as Tory prime minister Sir Anthony Eden, who was forced to resign in disgrace after launching an attack against Egypt during the Suez crisis.

A war with Iraq ... could cost Tony Blair his job

Tony Benn
World statesmen like Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ted Heath and Jimmy Carter need to speak out to "alert humanity to the danger that faces us", Mr Benn said.

But Deputy Commons Leader Ben Bradshaw warned that ignoring the threat of Iraqi dictator could be difficult to defend.

"We simply cannot think that by hoping a threat will go away it will. It won't and Saddam poses a very real one," he told Sky's Sunday with Adam Boulton.

He was speaking as Mr Benn, in an unusual plea for an arch left-winger, called on Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to "act quickly" to stop military action against Iraq.

Writing in the predominantly right-wing Mail on Sunday, the former Chesterfield MP argued that while Mr Blair has stated that no decision has been taken about a war, US President George Bush expects UK support.

'Act of aggression'

Last week, Mr Blair told a "presidential" style press conference that war against Iraq was not imminent.

But Mr Benn said that now Parliament has adjourned for its long summer recess, MPs will not have a chance to question the government about a potential conflict.

More than 20,000 British troops may support an invasion involving a 200,000-strong US contingent, it is reported.

Tony Benn, speaking for one of the last times in the House of Commons
Benn: Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs need to 'act quickly' to stop an invasion of Iraq
But Mr Benn said such an invasion would contravene the United Nations Charter.

"If Britain joins in, we will be guilty of conducting an act of aggression and committing war crimes against those innocent civilians who are bound to be killed.

"For there are many women living in Baghdad who will be widows within a few months and children who will be orphans and homeless as a result of actions by British airmen or soldiers acting in our name.

"The responsibility for this will lie with the prime minister personally, as he will have taken the decision without the authority of a vote in the House of Commons."

'Lose moral high ground'

Mr Benn said he did not know whether Mr Blair "appreciates the enormity" of acting in defiance of the UN, "to kill people at the behest of President Bush".

"But if, in the event, he does take that view, he could well forfeit his claim to the support of all those across the whole spectrum of British opinion who see war as a moral issue.

"He will destroy his own moral authority and relieve us of any obligations we may have to respect him."

Nelson Mandela
Could Mandela stop a war against Iraq?
Mr Benn said Labour MPs were the only people who could save Mr Blair from making "a disastrous mistake".

But he stressed: "I know that many Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are opposed to the war, but they must act quickly, because if and when it begins, the government will try to shield behind the men and women they have sent into battle, telling us we must support our own troops."

A war against Iraq would inflame the Middle East.

"If people of the stature of Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ted Heath, Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson, Ahmed Ben Bella, Boutros Boutros-Ghali and others issued a strong statement reaffirming their commitment to the UN Charter, this tragedy might be averted."

Eden fate

Mr Benn recalled in 1956 the demise of Sir Anthony Eden following the Suez crisis, when he proposed sending troops into Egypt.

"He was forced to resign in disgrace," said Mr Benn.

He advised Mr Blair: "The prime minister should be warning President Bush, in the plainest possible terms, that he should abandon his war plans or America will be totally isolated.

"A war with Iraq, which would certainly also alienate Russia and China and many of our European partners, could cost Tony Blair his job, undermine public support for the government as a whole, inflict untold suffering on millions - and must be stopped."

But Ben Bradshaw told Sky's Sunday with Adam Boulton he would not want to return to the programme in five years time "after something terrible had happened and defend to you that we had ignored that threat".

He admitted that there was an argument for a new UN resolution before military action. But he ruled out a vote by MPs ahead of any conflict, stressing that it was "not realistic".

"No prime minister in British history has ever allowed their hands to be tied like that and none would," he said.

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