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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 February, 2003, 21:36 GMT
Cabinet 'rock solid' on Iraq
Tony Blair
Blair was criticised for not being in the Commons to hear the result
Tony Blair will not be diverted from disarming Iraq by the biggest rebellion of his premiership, Downing Street has said.

Number 10 said the cabinet, which discussed the revolt by 122 Labour MPs for 40 minutes, was "rock solid" behind the government's strategy.

Mr Blair acknowledged Wednesday's vote reflected public anxiety and he was "under no illusion" about the strength of feeling in some quarters, his spokesman said.

But he continued: "The prime minister believes with an absolute passion that the threat from weapons of mass destruction, along with international terrorism, is now the main challenge to the security of the world."

The government's policy "remains as it is", said the spokesman, who promised that Mr Blair would continue to treat people's views "with respect".

It is important to recognise what they were saying which was 'not yet'
John Reid

"Leadership is about confronting difficult issues and taking difficult decisions and having the courage and resolve to see them through," added the spokesman.

Mr Blair is flying to Madrid on Thursday to meet Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a firm ally over Iraq, as he continues his diplomatic efforts.

'Concessions game'

Diplomats with links to Baghdad have reported that Iraq officials are saying they will destroy al-Samoud missiles - one of the demands of the UN weapons inspectors.

On Thursday afternoon, Downing Street stressed it had been predicting the move.

Mr Blair's official spokesman said: "It is part of how he plays the concession game, but it's not the full and immediate compliance which resolution 1441 demands."

NEXT STEPS IN IRAQ CRISIS
24 Feb: US-UK new resolution
28 Feb or soon after: Blix written report to Security Council
1 Mar: Missile destruction must start
Around 7 Mar: Inspectors oral report to Security Council
10 Mar: US-UK will force UN vote on resolution

Number 10 said it was not dismissing the move but urging realism.

"It's not the first time we have been down this route," said the spokesman. "We speak from the bitter experience of the last 12 years."

In a Commons debate lasting six hours on Wednesday, senior figures from all parties argued that the case for war was not yet proven.

In the end 199 of them - 122 Labour MPs including a teller - backed an amendment opposed to the government's position.

'Treadmill to war'

Despite the rebellion, the support of most Tories and the size of its Commons majority meant the government was able to see off the challenge.

But the scale of the rebellion meant it was a highly embarrassing result for the Labour leadership.

Labour Chairman John Reid stressed the large majority of Labour MPs did back the government's strategy.

War and all its consequences cannot be the present answer
Chris Smith

But Labour rebel Graham Allen said the vote was a heartfelt plea from parliament for Mr Blair to "get off the treadmill to war".

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy stressed the significance of the vote saying: "At this crucial stage it sends a potent signal to the governments of both Britain and the United States."

A further vote on the government's motion - effectively giving Saddam Hussein a final warning - was passed by 434 votes to 124, with 59 Labour MPs opposing ministers.

'Flat out'

Mr Blair had sought to allay concerns by stressing he was working "flat out" for a second UN resolution and did not want war.

He also told MPs that Parliament would be able vote "many times" on the crisis if there was military action.

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett stressed such votes might come after a war began if that was needed to protect troops' lives.

Ministers would "try to keep in touch" and "try to continue to consult" with the Commons, she said.

Former Labour Health Secretary Frank Dobson said the prime minister would be ill-advised to choose to go to war now.

"It would be inadvisable to exercise that right without an explicit agreement by the Security Council to undertake military action and an explicit prior vote by the House of Commons," he told Today.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
"If there isn't a second resolution the government could find itself in even more trouble"



SEE ALSO:
How Labour voted on Iraq
26 Feb 03 |  Politics


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