Page last updated at 13:23 GMT, Tuesday, 18 March 2003

Short explains her U-turn

Clare Short with BBC political editor Andrew Marr in foreground
Clare Short was interviewed by BBC political editor Andrew Marr

Clare Short has decided to change her mind and stay in the government despite deep misgivings over its policy on Iraq that prompted her last week to describe Prime Minister Tony Blair as "reckless".

She explained her position in an interview with BBC political editor Andrew Marr.

Andrew Marr: Do you still regard Tony Blair as reckless over this?

Clare Short: I think the crisis has been badly handled but I think we are where we are and I've been thinking about what I would do if I was Tony Blair and I think there's no way a second resolution can be got because France has said no ultimatum, would veto, going back [on the position] from [resolution] 1441.

I know that I'll be vilified
Iraq is a mess. Saddam Hussein is defying the UN. The people are suffering, we have to go on. 19 million people need food aid, we've got to make sure they are cared for.

Marr: You did say very clearly that you would go if there wasn't a second resolution, there isn't a second resolution. A lot of your allies and comrades in the party will be saying 'you've let us down'.

Short: Absolutely I know that I'll be vilified. I've spent a lot of time thinking about this, it's easier to go, I'd be more popular if I went, but the truth is I would be copping out. If I think Tony has no option then it's cheap of me to resign as though he could do something different now, but I know I'm going to have a really hard time.

Marr: Has this been the hardest decision you've had to take as a politician?

Short: Yes absolutely.

Marr: You list in your statement various reasons why you've changed your mind about this. What was the tipping moment, what is the crucial central reason you decided to stay?

Short: For me, when I made my statement, the 'reckless statement', I said we haven't even got the road map to the Palestinian state published, if there was a commitment to justice in the Middle East we'd get that.

We have to group together and do this in a way that will minimise the harm
There has to be a UN mandate for the reconstruction of the country [Iraq] otherwise any forces would be an army of occupation and you can't restructure the country.

Both those things have been got.

Thirdly, because the attorney general wasn't saying anything, I was beginning to think there was some doubt about legality. He's made an absolute unequivocal statement and then France has made it completely impossible to get a Security Council resolution.

I didn't think it was right to be on the US time lines - like 'do it in five days or we're going anyway', and 'we want another resolution that gives us the right to start the war when we feel like it'.

I agreed with France on that but when they said they wouldn't support the Chilean proposal, which was for three weeks, Dr Blix to report, but an ultimatum in the resolution if Saddam Hussein didn't comply, then they'd moved away from 1441, then there was no second resolution.

So [with] the things I complained about there has been movement on and we are where we are and the people of Iraq are where they are and we have to group together and do this in a way that will minimise the harm to them and rebuild the country.

Marr: You say in your statement that you are hopeful that not too many Iraqi women and children and civilians will be killed by what is about to happen.

It's highly likely that the military action will be over in a matter of weeks
Short: I've had two very detailed presentations from the military. Obviously war is risky and never ever should lightly be engaged in, but the targeting is enormously careful to go for things that will help the military and not the people and there's massive preparations to look after people, this is a very hungry vulnerable people and a large part of the military action will be stabilising things to stop people fighting each other and keeping people fed and cared for. Those are duties under the Geneva Convention and the Hague Convention.

So I think it's highly likely but there are risks, not least the worry about chemical and biological weapons, it's highly likely that the military action will be over in a matter of weeks, that the Iraqi forces will crumble very quickly because this is a very nasty regime and its people don't like it and if they think they can safely come away from the authority of the regime they will.

But, [the UN's] Oil for Food [programme] - 19 million people daily dependant for their food and their basics, if that breaks down we could have a catastrophe. Keeping humanitarian [aid] running is probably the biggest challenge.

Marr: So is the difference between you and Robin Cook, essentially is that you feel that you have an absolutely vital job in government still to do involving Iraq.

Short: I didn't I'm afraid listen to Robin's speech, I was just doing other things - no disrespect to Robin and I will read it. I understand his irritation, I think the whole approach to this crisis, the way America shows its power and appears to bully the world, all this is very unattractive, the divisions in Europe, the divisions in the security council, all very regrettable, it should have been done better, but we're here, the people have got to be cared for, Tony's got to make a decision for Britain.

I think he [Tony Blair] has no doubt that if we were all starting again we could have handled it differently
I respect Robin's position and anyone who takes that position but for me I think I have to accept the responsibility, though I know I'm going to get terrible flak for this, but you've got to do what you think is right whatever [the situation].

Marr: You're going to get terrible flak the government gets terrible flak, do you think the prime minister has any second thoughts or felt that it could have been done differently?

Short: I think he has no doubt that if we were all starting again we could have handled it differently, I mean we should have started with publication of the road map - if you want to stand for justice in the Middle East the first thing is to get that Palestinian state alongside Israel and give both peoples a chance of a secure and decent future, then you'd show you were committing to justice.

Then you've got to turn to Iraq and the fact that Saddam Hussein is in complete defiance of the UN and that what should have been a short sanctions regime after the invasion of Kuwait goes on and the people suffer and then every attempt to keep the international community united to minimise the need for a military conflict and to have it only with the backing of the UN, that would be ideal.

But we're not in an ideal situation, we are where we are and Tony is where he is and I think every one of us should say 'if I were the prime minister of Britain what would I do?'

Marr: Do you feel that he's done everything he can to reign in and moderate some of the forces in the American administration?

Short: To be honest I think he could have used the leverage of Britain more earlier, but I think in the last week or so he's done everything he could conceivably do.

Marr: It's a pretty tough 12 hours ahead for you and everybody else. Are you absolutely calm and settled in your mind about what you have decided to do?

Short: I'm absolutely certain that this is what I've got to do, being true to myself. I'm not looking forward to all the people who are going to feel I've let them down.

It would have been easier to go, I would have been more popular, but I've got to do what I think is right. I think I like the fact that our country, our parliament, our government is deeply troubled by this, I think we should be troubled and I'm very troubled but here we are and I'm going to do what I can.

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Clare Short MP, International Development Secretary
"Saddam Hussein is defying the UN and people are suffering"


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