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Friday, 16 August, 2002, 17:12 GMT 18:12 UK
No split over Iraq says Prescott
John Prescott
Mr Prescott insists no decision has been made
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has admitted there are differences of opinion in the Cabinet over possible military action in Iraq.


We are careering towards what some of us see as a catastrophic conflict

Tam Daylell, Labour MP
But he dismissed as "prattle" reports of a split on the issue.

He insisted there was no "serious division" among senior ministers, despite press reports that Robin Cook is ready to lead opposition to US-led military action.

Downing Street has also played down a report in the Guardian that Tony Blair is blocking a Cabinet debate on Iraq.

'No decisions taken'

The newspaper said ministers had approached the prime minister privately to ask for a Cabinet discussion of the issue, only to be told that any decisions were still a long way off.

But Downing Street said it "did not recognise" the events as represented in the paper.

A spokesman said: "We have said many times that no decisions have yet been taken. The position has not changed."

Mr Prescott, who is standing in for Mr Blair during his holiday, said: "There is no serious division inside the Cabinet and there are debates inside the Cabinet."

During a visit to a hospital in west London, he added: "The prime minister has made it absolutely clear these decisions are not imminent, no decision has been taken and he has not yet decided what form of consultation will take place while we are in these circumstances."

Growing unease

Left-wing opponents of military action in Iraq have seized on Mr Cook as a possible champion of their cause.

Robin Cook
Mr Cook is said to be concerned about war
The leader of the house, and former foreign secretary, has so far refused to comment.

But Tribune editor Mark Seddon, who sits on Labour's ruling National Executive, said Mr Cook had made it clear privately that he had reservations about another war.

"Robin Cook has talked to a number of people and he is sceptical and I think that scepticism is shared by probably most of the cabinet.

"In a way, that reflects the mood not only within the Labour Party, but within the country as well," Mr Seddon said.


We certainly do not have the luxury of doing nothing

Condoleezza Rice, US National Security Adivser
Veteran Labour MP Tam Dalyell also urged Mr Cook to speak out.

"We are careering towards what some of us see as a catastrophic conflict and those who express unease, such as Robin Cook, really owe it to us, sooner rather than later, to make it clear where they stand," Mr Dalyell told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.

Earlier, Labour former Foreign Office minister Tony Lloyd said he wanted the government to recognise "the very real concerns" within the Labour Party on the issue.

'Tinpot regime'

"It isn't good enough in the modern world to say trust the White House because they are Americans.

"We have got to be a bit more sophisticated than that," Mr Lloyd told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Mr Lloyd said he was particularly concerned about remarks made by Condoleeza Rice, President Bush's National Security Adviser, who suggested action on Iraq was imminent.

Speaking on Thursday's Today programme, Miss Rice said there was a "very powerful moral case" for ousting Saddam Hussein, who she described as an "evil man".

"We certainly do not have the luxury of doing nothing," she added.

Reacting to her comments, Mr Lloyd said: "It sounded very much like the kind of rhetoric we sometimes do hear from fairly tin pot regimes around the world where the agenda isn't to convince the outside world but to make sure the public at home believe the regime."

He added: "We do need an America that is prepared to work with its allies.

"And America actually is the one that is out of step at the moment."

'Substantial resistance'

Mr Cook is one of a series of ministers - including Clare Short, Jack Straw and Gordon Brown - named in the press as being wary of war, although none has spoken out publicly.

Already 160 MPs, most of them Labour backbenchers, have signed an early-day motion cautioning against overhasty action in Iraq.

Former Labour minister Gerald Kaufman warned that there would be "substantial resistance" in Westminster to British involvement in an attack on Iraq.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Guto Harri in Westminster
"Tony Blair is reluctant to get into hypothetical arguments"
Deputy UK PM John Prescott
"The prime minister has told parliament that there will be a debate on this issue"
Editor of the Tribune magazine Mark Seddon
"Robin Cook is sceptical"
Labour MP Tam Dalyell
"We are careering towards what some of us see as a catastrophic conflict "

Main stories

Background

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IN PICTURES

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THE IRAQ DOSSIER
See also:

26 Jul 02 | Politics
29 Jul 02 | Politics
24 Jul 02 | Politics
16 Aug 02 | Politics
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