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Last Updated: Monday, 12 May, 2003, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
Clare Short interview

International Development Secretary Clare Short quit the government on Monday.

BBC Political Editor Andrew Marr talked to her about her reasons for quitting.

Andrew Marr: The reason you gave for quitting was what had happened in the preparation of the draft UN resolution in which Britain's been involved. You said that Mr Blair had breached the assurances you'd been given. What were those assurances?

Clare Short: Well when he took quite a lot of trouble to persuade me to stay in the government he knew I think there were very serious mistakes made in the run up to the outbreak of conflict. But I decided to stay, as he requested, to lead the UK effort on the humanitarian and reconstruction. It was good that bad regime had fallen and the right thing to do whatever the mistakes in the run up was to help rebuild Iraq and that was on the understanding that the UN would have its proper role in the reconstruction of Iraq. The coalition are occupying powers under the Geneva Convention and the Hague regulations. They have no sovereign authority and they have no authority in absolutely agreed international law to bring into being a legitimate Iraqi government. The only body in the international system that can do that is the UN Security Council. What we need is the UN Security Council resolution to bring into being an interim government - exactly as we did for Afghanistan - it's not controversial, we know how to do it. But this mood of antagonism to the UN is particularly prevalent in the US and the UK and Spain have now joined up with a resolution that is shameful that breaches that understanding, that breaches the proper arrangements that I think creates the danger of continuing divisions in the international community, weakening of the UN and makes more difficult the reconstruction of Iraq. It's indefensible in my view and I can't do my job of trying to help with the reconstruction of Iraq when I don't believe in the legality or the wisdom of the position the UK Government is taking in the Security Council. And what is more the position we're taking there was agreed by a tiny number of people in Whitehall - the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister - a tiny number of officials. Other departments that are involved in the responsibilities of humanitarian and reconstruction of Iraq - not consulted - not just me as an individual - top senior Whitehall officials - this is a very way of doing things and it leads to mistakes and I can't defend it.

Q: And on the specific point then - you were given assurances that this is not what would happen and those assurances, you believe, have been broken to you?

A: That's right, I do. I mean when I had the conversation with the prime minister, he was saying - oh, but the UN has a role - but I mean, I think that's fudge around words. I think the legalities are clear and I think they're being breached.

Q: You also then referred to these private negotiations that took place in which people like you were excluded and many others, you say, besides. You describe them as secret negotiations. The evidence presumably you have for that is simply that this piece of paper appeared, did it and you haven't been involved at all? Or all these people haven't been involved in its construction?

A: We knew it was going on - and this isn't just my department, it's other departments in Whitehall - very senior officials and other secretaries of state and ministers were excluded. In fact the final irony - there was a ministerial meeting at which senior officials were present and it was suggested that the resolution might be circulated around the table. But the Foreign Secretary decided not. But it was already on the BBC website. So we've got so much secrecy in Whitehall now that the BBC can share to the world things that senior officials, responsible for the day-to-day operation of UK policy in Iraq, were not included.

Q: From your point of view, is this situation retrievable? Can this resolution - will it get through? Can it be changed sufficiently?

A: I think it's unlikely that it will get through. But I think everyone's in a dilemma now. All responsible people want the international community to reunite, the authority of the UN to be reinstated for Iraq and for other issues across the world which we badly need in this disorderly world we're living in now. And I think the UK, as a friend of America with strong historical bonds should have been helping the US - bruised as it is after September 11th - to come back to the reasonableness of the international community rather than colluding in the mistakes that are continuing to be made that endanger future bitterness and division and marginalisation of the UN that really risks order in the world for all of us. I think these are very serious mistakes.

Q: You do realise that an awful lot of people are going to listen to you speaking like this - as they did a couple of months of ago speaking before the war - and say if this woman believes now what she believed then and believes it so passionately, what on earth was she doing staying in government throughout the progress of the war?

A: I'm absolutely clear that it was honourable to stay - difficult but honourable. My position was always with those who said, we needed a second UN resolution - not no war at any price but we should do this thing properly but yes we needed to deal with the brutality of the Saddam Hussein regime and the fact that it was defying the UN. I think the way in which the run up was handled meant a second Security Council resolution was impossible. But there we were - it's a brutal regime, our troops were on the ground, the conflict was unstoppable because the official opposition was voting with the government, the prime minister was asking me to stay, as were aide agencies and other people in the world in order to work on the reconstruction.

And I said, I regret how we got here but I always accepted it might be necessary to use force to back up the authority of the UN. The right thing to do now is to get the conflict over as quickly as possible and support the people of Iraq in reconstructing their country¿

Q: But I mean, you were put in a very difficult position weren't you? Because every time I heard you interviewed, you sounded terribly uncomfortable. You were asked several times, were civilian lives, those that had been lost, did it make it worthwhile because it was a brutal regime - you always sounded like someone in a tortured position really and it didn't sound to me as you were really comfortable where you were.

A: Well - but the media are such jackals. They thought I was against any conflict at any price - that was untrue. Of course every civilian death - well every death of any human being anywhere in the world is regrettable. I say that and then the media are trying to suggest that means I'm opposing the success of the military action - that was lie got up by the media and that's how the media behave. But that's not important and I'm not important.

I stayed for honourable reasons. I cannot do the job the Prime Minister asked me to do. That whatever view anyone took about the outbreak of war, everyone should unite now to help the people of Iraq to reconstruct their country, to re-establish the authority of the UN, to heal international divisions - the UK is failing to use its influence to do that.

Q: A lot of your supporters thought to themselves - Clare Short's got the worst of all worlds. She's expressed herself - she's put herself in a vulnerable position where she cannot last long in the cabinet. She's not going to be able to achieve anything against the might of the forces ranged against her and all she's done is lose credibility. Do you sometimes - are you going to lie awake tonight and think, maybe I did make a mistake?

A: No. There's no doubt if I was a calculating populist, I would have gone. I'm not that kind of politician. I couldn't correct the errors that had been made - we need to get the war over and help the people of Iraq reconstruct. I decided that was the right thing to do - I still think it was the right thing to do and I have then tried to get our government to use its influence wisely in the post-conflict situation to reunite the world and help Iraq. And they're making the same errors again and I can't defend what they're doing now - so it's impossible, I can't do anymore to help.

Q: In the past few days has been the incident of the missed vote over foundation hospitals and surprisingly some thought journalists got hold of the fact that you hadn't been there when you could have been there. Do you think this was a leak by people whispering against you?

A: No - I'd just come back from Uzbekistan and Kurdistan. I don't like the foundation hospitals things much or the way it's been brought about. I really believe in decentralisation but I don't think it's been well organised. But I decided to vote for it because you can't fight on all fights and Iraq was the thing I was focusing on and I knew I might well have to go on that.

So I was intending to vote - they have changed the hours in the House of Commons. I set just before eight to go over for the vote at ten and found out I'd missed the vote. You tell the truth to journalists and they don't believe you. But on the other hand they had smelt that I was uncomfortable with many things the government was doing and that is true so there you go.

Q: And did you jump before you were pushed? I mean was the point at which, with the various bits of briefing that had gone on, what one read in the weekend newspaper. Did you feel that in any case this was going happen if you hadn't left?

A: You have to ask the prime minister whether I was going to be pushed. I didn't hang onto to my job. I wanted to leave the government - the prime minister persuaded me and pressed me and pressed me to stay. I stayed, although it was hard for me because it was the right thing to do. I'm not clinging onto government.

Q: Could you be a powerful voice on the backbenches?

A: I don't think I'm anyone's heroine. I've got this perverse commitment to trying to do what's right, that means that I don't fall into any grouping. But I love my constituency. I'm the MP for Birmingham Ladywood. I love the Labour Party's values. I will speak up for what I see is the truth and what is right and I will try and help the Labour Party to stop the Government from making errors. Yes, I will do that.

The BBC's Shaun Ley
"Clare Short has been controversial since becoming an MP"

Short speaking out
12 May 03  |  Politics

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