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Monday, 19 August, 2002, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
Cabinet at war over Iraq?
Several Cabinet members are thought to be against a war
With predictions of civil war at this year's Labour Party conference over US-led military action in Iraq, the BBC's Sean Curran looks at the prospect of a Cabinet revolt on the issue.

Almost as soon as MPs left Westminster for the summer recess, opponents of a war with Iraq began demanding that Parliament be recalled to debate the prospect of British involvement.

Many Labour MPs - and not just the usual suspects - have made it clear they're against any military action.

Robin Cook
The anti-war left is looking to Robin Cook
More than 150 MPs have signed a Commons motion tabled by the Labour backbencher, Alice Mahon, condemning any attack that didn't have the backing of the United Nations.

Given the level of parliamentary unease, not to mention the lack of public support for a war, it's hardly surprising that some members of the Cabinet are reported to be unhappy at the prospect of British involvement in a US led campaign against Saddam Hussein.

And the views of these senior ministers are important.

Under Britain's rather complicated constitution, only the Crown - acting on the advice of the Prime Minister AND the Cabinet - can declare war.

'No decision taken'

No one is yet talking seriously about Cabinet resignations, but the International Development Secretary, Clare Short, has expressed concern in the past and the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, is reported to have voiced reservations about the possible cost of any military action.


When Labour meets at Blackpool for its annual conference the leadership will be prepared for a revolt over Iraq

A spokesman for the Leader of the Commons, Robin Cook, has refused to comment on newspaper reports that the former Foreign Secretary is planning to raise his concerns about the diplomatic repercussions of any attack when the Cabinet next discusses Iraq.

Last month answering questions from MPs in the Commons, Mr Cook, stressed that "no decision has been taken by the British Government on this matter. No decision may ever be taken."

Anti-war campaigners would like to see Robin Cook lead some sort of Cabinet revolt over Iraq.

That seems like wishful thinking as Mr Cook is said to regard Saddam Hussein as a serious threat.

No vote for MPs

When Labour meets at Blackpool for its annual conference the leadership will be prepared for a revolt over Iraq.

But a large scale rebellion in the Commons would be much more serious.

A senior Labour member, Gerald Kaufman - Shadow Foreign Secretary when Neil Kinnock was leader - says he would vote with the government but he's warned Tony Blair that there's "substantial resistance" within the Labour Party.

In an article in The Spectator magazine, Mr Kaufman writes that "Tony Blair would find it difficult to support and participate in a war against Iraq whose majority in the House of Commons was provided by the Conservatives."

The government has always insisted that MPs will be given an opportunity to voice their opinions, but no government in modern times has allowed MPs to VOTE on military action.

A tradition upheld by the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, earlier this week when he refused to confirm that there would be a Parliamentary vote on Iraq.


Main stories

Background

Analysis

IN PICTURES

TALKING POINT

FORUM

THE IRAQ DOSSIER
See also:

16 Aug 02 | Politics
19 Aug 02 | Americas
18 Aug 02 | Politics
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