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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 August 2006, 20:14 GMT 21:14 UK
MP resigns post over Middle East
Jim Sheridan
Jim Sheridan is MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North

A Labour MP has quit his defence post in protest at the UK government's policy on the Middle East.

Jim Sheridan, MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, resigned as a parliamentary private secretary to the defence team.

He voiced concerns over the use of UK airports like Prestwick to refuel US aircraft travelling to Israel.

The 52-year-old said many of his Labour colleagues believed the government's policy was flawed.

He also said he believed the Palestinian situation had been put on the back burner.

"The reason I am resigning is the current conflict in the Middle East," he said.

"I don't expect my resignation will have any significant impact on the prime minister's objectives in the Middle East, which I genuinely believe to be honourable on his part, but I don't believe they reflect the core values of the Labour Party or indeed the country."

Sometimes it takes a friend to say that what you are doing is wrong
Jim Sheridan MP

In a letter to Tony Blair, he said that he did not believe that America or the UK were serious about bringing about an early end to the conflict.

Mr Sheridan added that the decision to allow US flights to Israel to stop off in the UK did not sit comfortably with the International Convention on Human Rights.

There have been protests after planes carrying "hazardous" cargo refuelled at Prestwick Airport in Ayrshire.

Mr Sheridan said: "I can no longer support the government's position of calling for restraint on both sides of the current conflict in Lebanon whilst, in my view, facilitating the refuelling of aircraft in our country that are carrying real weapons of mass destruction, as seen on our television screens."

Recall parliament

He said he regarded himself as a friend of the prime minister and the government.

"Sometimes it takes a friend to say that what you are doing is wrong," he said.

"I genuinely believe that our government's domestic agenda has transformed the lives of millions of citizens, but I cannot say that about our foreign policy and that is what really upsets me."

I'm not sure what a recall of parliament would do to alter the situation
Kim Howells
Foreign Office Minister

More than 130 MPs - about half of them Labour - have issued a demand for a recall of parliament to discuss the Lebanon crisis.

Mr Sheridan said he would support such a move and suggested that a "significant" number of his colleagues regarded the current Middle East policy as flawed.

"I think we are now in danger of embarking on an extremely dangerous strategy and we have to stop the bombing and killing of people on both sides of this conflict," he said.

Defence Secretary Des Browne said he was "disappointed" by Mr Sheridan's resignation.

"He was a valued member of the ministerial team. I respect his decision," he said.

"The issues are difficult for everyone involved, but we are all working to the same objective - an early and sustainable end to the violence."

'Weapons of death'

Scottish National Party defence spokesman Angus Robertson said: "This is the first major crack in the Labour line over the conflict in Lebanon.

"He was right to be angry over the use of Scottish airports to transfer weapons of death from the US to Israel."

Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells said the request to recall parliament would be considered "very, very carefully" by the Leader of the Commons, Jack Straw.

But he added: "I'm not sure what a recall of parliament would do to alter the situation."


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