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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 21:01 GMT
Rebels raise the stakes on Iraq
Anti-war demo in Westminster
Forty-one Labour MPs took part in the symbolic vote
Labour anti-war rebels stood up to government policy on Iraq by forcing a symbolic vote against it.

They acted after a stormy debate on defence issues and just days after the government announced it was to deploy 26,000 more troops for possible military action against Iraq.

Wouldn't it be better for the government to listen to the public

Doug Henderson

The procedural motion to adjourn the House of Commons was opposed on Wednesday by 53 votes to nil.

The numbers included 41 Labour MPs, along with Welsh Nationalists, Scottish Nationalists and Liberal Democrats.

Normally such a debate would end without a vote, but the rebels forced one as the only means of showing their opposition to the prospect of military action against Iraq.

'Cowardice'

Outspoken Labour MPs forced Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon on the defensive with a barrage of criticism against government policy on Iraq and its support for the US missile defence system.

He strongly denied reports that UK troops were being sent to Iraq poorly equipped and insisted that Britain could not ignore the threat from "rogue" states.

"If we don't deal with these threats the consequences will haunt future generations," he stressed.

Bob Marshall-Andrews
Marshall-Andrews: Suspicious of the motives for war
But Labour MP Alice Mahon, one of the rebels and a long-time opponent of war on Iraq, accused the government of "dishonesty and cowardice," claiming the prime minister had already pledged support to US President Bush for military action.

Former armed forces minister Doug Henderson pointed to reports that Falklands war hero Simon Weston was one among those who believed attacking Iraq was wrong.

Mr Henderson said: "Aren't you concerned that there is considerable anxiety among the chiefs in the forces and among the rank and file that the government might be asking them to do something which lacks the support of the public in this country?

"Isn't that extremely dangerous for the relationship between our political institutions and our military institutions?

"Wouldn't it be better for the government to listen to the public ... and get back into a containment strategy and if not go through the UN?"

'Properly equipped'

Mr Hoon said the latest opinion polls showed the overwhelming majority of people supported the government's stance.

Other left-wingers were critical of the government's support for US national missile defence after Mr Hoon insisted it was a "defensive system and threatens no-one".

Labour's Jeremy Corbyn said many of the party's electors in 1997 also wanted a government committed to global disarmament of nuclear weapons.

"I've heard nothing from you today that says anything about global disarmament, but says a great deal about accelerating and exacerbating the dangerous arms race around the world," he said.

Mr Hoon dismissed claims troops were being sent abroad without the right equipment.

Oil

He told MPs: "British personnel deployed on operations will be properly equipped and fully capable of fulfilling the tasks that may be required of them."

Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews QC described the motive for war as "suspect in the extreme."

He claimed the current American "regime" was being ruled and governed and motivated by a "ghastly mixture of fundamental Christian evangelism, the ruthless Zionism and the oil economy" which if allowed to rule the UK's international affairs "would bring us nothing but disaster".

Shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin said his party supported the "broad thrust" of the government's policy of "diplomacy backed by force" against Iraq and endorsed the Fylingdales upgrade for missile defence.

But he warned against any prime minister committing the UK to war on the "say so of another country - even the US".

While he did not consider a second UN resolution on Iraq "a prerequisite" for military action, he added: "The danger is that in such circumstances Britain could find its hands tied."


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22 Jan 03 | Politics
21 Jan 03 | Politics
21 Jan 03 | Middle East
21 Jan 03 | Politics
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22 Jan 03 | Europe
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