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18 Mar 2003 : Column 834—continued

5.19 pm

Mr. John Baron (Billericay): It is my belief—I say this with a heavy heart—that war at this moment is wrong for a number of reasons. First, war should always be the measure of last resort, when all other approaches have been exhausted and are futile. Indeed, war can be justified only if there is no other possibility. As we stand today, however, that is not the case. The threat of force is yielding some results. UN inspectors want more time and are finally making some progress, slow though it may be, and no one can dispute that.

Many who advocate war point out correctly that Iraq has had 12 years to disarm but has not done so, and cite that as a reason to go to war now. However, many of those years were wasted by the international community. To resort to war now, having made some progress during the last 12 to 13 weeks of the present policy, makes little sense.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Does my hon. Friend accept, however, that it is not the inspectors' job to go on doing what they have been doing over the last few weeks in acting as detectives? If they are to perform their task properly, they need to be actively shown where the forbidden weapons are, and they are not being shown where they are.

Mr. Baron: I accept my hon. Friend's point, but he must accept that the UN inspectors' reports request extra time because they believe that some progress is being made and there are tentative signs that the regime may be changing its view. An extra 45 days, or a couple of months, would determine whether that was true. Time would tell.

To wage war now makes little sense when all the other possible approaches and measures have not been exhausted. Waging war is the ultimate act of politicians, yet such an act recognises the futility of their endeavours. Until we know that all other avenues have been exhausted, our consciences cannot be at ease. What is to be lost by giving the UN inspectors what they want: a few more months to see whether the task can be completed? Do we seriously believe that Iraq's biological and chemical weapons, in whatever state and quantity, pose such an immediate threat to the US, the UK or Iraq's neighbours that if we do not act this week or this month, we put our citizens at serious risk? I do not believe so.

Iraq's army is a shadow of its 1991 standing. Iraq is probably the most watched-over country in the world at present. It would not pose any more of an immediate threat to our citizens during this period than it has done over the past 12 years. The prize for being patient, however, could be great: we would have a much greater chance of the UN speaking with at least a moral majority, if not one voice, on this issue.

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That leads me to my second concern, which is for the UN. For whatever reasons, it is clear that the UN does not believe war to be justified, and will not vote for it. Unlike the action in relation to Kosovo, we cannot even get a moral majority for this action. The UN imposed the sanctions, and, on this issue, the UN should decide whether war is a necessity. By taking unilateral action, the US and the UK have undermined the organisation, which saddens me greatly. Having served with the UN, I have seen the tremendous potential for good that it possesses. It is not perfect, and blame can be laid at its door over the last 12 years, but it is the best that we have got, and could do much more if we put our minds to it. At a time when the UN should come together as never before to fight global terrorism and other threats after 11 September, it is being undermined by this action. The credibility that the international community will require when dealing with rogue states and terrorist organisations will be that much harder to muster.

Since the second world war, the threat of force, deterrence and containment have been successful policies, during the cold war and when dealing with rogue states such as Libya. The broad unity that has made that possible is at risk of fracturing, and that could be a serious consequence of this action.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Baron: I will not. I must make progress or I will run out of time.

We have debated the broad legality of the action long and hard, and I accept that, if one puts several lawyers in a room, one will probably not receive only one answer. Resolution 1441, for which I voted, clearly implies that war is possible, but only if other means have been exhausted. I thought that it was passed in that spirit and, as we all know, the American ambassador to the UN was at pains to emphasise at the time that there were no hidden trigger points for war in the resolution. However, we have been told that the resolution is sufficient justification for war in its own right. If that is the case, certain questions must be answered.

Why did the US and UK try to secure a second resolution if not to provide legal cover for war? Why has Kofi Annan cast doubt over the legality of war without a second resolution? Why does a growing body of opinion, both at home and abroad, question whether resolution 1441 is sufficient justification for war? The countries that signed up to 1441 believed that it could justify war only if there were no alternatives. We all agree that Iraq has a revolting regime—there can be little doubt about that—but that is insufficient justification to go to war.

Insufficient thought has been given to the consequences of the action and urgent questions must again be answered. Who and what will replace Saddam Hussein? What plans exist for humanitarian relief? We know little about that. What effect will the action have on the stability of neighbouring states? My right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary has consistently asked those questions but the Government have failed to answer them, broadly speaking. Any plans have not been assisted by the fact that the USA has cited different objectives at different times: regime change, links with

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al-Qaeda, weapons of mass destruction and morality. We need to be clear about the objectives when taking such important decisions.

I wish to address the view expressed in some quarters that we are somehow letting our troops down by questioning our policy here and now. It is only right that we question the policy given that we are probably about to go to war. I am sure that I speak for everyone in the House when I say that we will wholeheartedly support our troops if and when they are sent to war. They deserve our fullest support and I know that they will not fail us, although we may have failed to address the issue adequately.

War now is not the right action. I have no doubt about the result of the conflict because the combined military power of the US and the UK will ensure a quick military victory. However, an easy victory does not make the war right. I am not anti-American—quite the opposite, I have great respect for America—but that is not the issue. Good friends need to point out where policy is going wrong.

The UN can only be weakened by unilateral action by certain members at a time when it clearly does not believe that action is justified, despite all the talk over the weekend in the Azores. That is why I cannot support the Government's action and I shall vote for the amendment.

5.28 pm

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch): We have just heard a courageous speech, although I am not sure how well it will go down with warlike taxi drivers from Billericay.

It is customary on these occasions to wish our forces well when they carry out the thankless task that we ask them to do in our name. In my capacity as the civilian president of 444 Squadron, Shoreditch—I proudly wear its tie today—I hope against hope that all our airmen and women, soldiers and sailors will return home safely from the war. I also hope that men, women and children in Iraq will be safe. With apologies to Churchill, I hope that this will not signal the end, or even the beginning of the end, for our Prime Minister. However, my gut instinct tells me that he will face almost insurmountable problems because of the position that he has taken. The scale of his misjudgment on this issue is enormous.

Who would have thought that the actions of a Labour Prime Minister would have given rise to the biggest demonstration in our history against his own Government? Who would have thought that his actions would give rise to the biggest parliamentary Back-Bench rebellion in modern political history? How did he manage to poison the idea of European unity? The attempts to make France the scapegoat for the miserable failure of British diplomacy have demeaned both our Foreign Secretary—I regret to say that—and our Prime Minister. Listening to some of today's debate, one would think that there is such an anti-French feeling that people have started to read the editorials in The Sun. It will be a long time before the civilised citizens of our continent forgive them.

How came it that our Prime Minister allowed a road map for peace to become a road map for war, thereby sowing deep division in the United Nations? Did he really think that the United States Government could

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bully and bribe all the nations of the UN to acquiesce in armed conflict? It is sad that, both as a politician and as a lawyer, the Prime Minister should have forsaken the ideal of a tolerant and liberal internationalism in favour of the frightening concept that might is right.

We are supposed to admire the Prime Minister because he is a man without doubts and one shorn of scepticism—two of the greatest qualities that the British people have. He just knows that he is right and is therefore prepared to ignore the advice of virtually all the leaders of the great religions in the world, including the Pope and our own archbishop. I find that approach rather frightening.

Worse than all that, the Prime Minister shows himself to be oblivious of and careless towards the shrewd moral judgment of the majority of the British people. No, we do not govern by opinion poll and focus groups, but in a modern democracy we need something stronger to hold on to than the slogan, "My Prime Minister, right or wrong."

In this catastrophe the Prime Minister, a self-avowed admirer of Baroness Thatcher, has ignored the principal lesson of her demise. He should know, as the rest of us do, that when arrogance turns to hubris, come-uppance is never far behind.

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