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Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK
Blair faces war warnings
Tony Blair in Johannesburg at the world summit
Blair returns to the UK amid a chorus of war opposition
Tony Blair would very likely lose his job if he took the UK into war with Iraq, former Labour MP Tony Benn has warned.

Mr Benn's comments were among a swathe of opposition voices over possible military action that greeted the prime minister as he returned to the UK from the world summit.


I think if Britain is taken to war there is a very high likelihood Tony Blair would be replaced

Tony Benn
Former Labour MP

Former Defence Minister Peter Kilfoyle said action over Iraq could spark a range of dissatisfaction with the government.

Fears over Iraq have been echoed by senior figures in Mr Blair's constituency Labour Party in Sedgefield.

'Inaction no option'

Religious leaders too are renewing their opposition to war, with the World Council of Churches upping the moral pressure on Mr Blair and President George Bush on Tuesday.

The comments came before Mr Blair used a special news conference to say the threat of Iraq could not be ignored.

But he repeated his insistence that no decisions had yet been taken.

Anthony Eden
Anthony Eden stepped down in the wake of Suez
Despite such reassurances, Tony Benn told BBC News 24 he believed Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon's forthcoming visit to Washington was aimed at planning the war.

Mr Benn compared possible military action with the Suez invasion in 1956, which sounded the death-knell for Anthony Eden's premiership after America withheld its backing.

He warned that Mr Blair could face similar dangers.

Vietnam example

"I think if Britain is taken to war there is a very high likelihood he would be replaced," said Mr Benn.

He suggested the prime minister should follow Harold Wilson's example in having the "guts to say no" to America over support for the Vietnam war.

John Burton, Tony Blair's constituency agent
John Burton, Blair's agent, has voiced his war concerns
Working through the United Nations still offered a good chance of preventing a war, said Mr Benn, who believes military action would not be justified.

Peter Kilfoyle said military action could be "extremely dangerous" for Mr Blair within the Labour Party.

"I think it can be a catalyst for all sorts of dissatisfactions and discontents," Mr Kilfoyle told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The Liverpool MP said wider public opinion was firmly set against a war.

Public persuasion

There are signs of such anxiety within Mr Blair's Sedgefield Labour Party.

Mr Blair's agent, John Burton, has voiced his fears about the effect a war could have on the coalition against terrorism.

Vince Crosby, a member of the constituency party's executive, expressed concern about the kind of conflict involved.

Mr Crosby told Today programme: "Sometimes you have got to defend yourselves.

"Here we have a situation which isn't talking about defence because nobody's been attacked. It's about making a direct attack."

BBC political editor Andrew Marr says Mr Blair will have to start winning round the public if he is to mobilise opinion behind a war this year.

Mr Blair said a dossier of evidence against Iraq would be published in the next few weeks - something also suggested by US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Many people were not opposed to action in principle but had sensible concerns about its possible effects, he argued.

Most people were open-minded over the issue, added the prime minister.


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THE IRAQ DOSSIER
See also:

03 Sep 02 | Middle East
02 Sep 02 | Africa
31 Aug 02 | Politics
01 Sep 02 | Middle East
28 Aug 02 | Politics
19 Aug 02 | Politics
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