Iraq Crisis: Labour MPs ready to rebel over air strikes

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The Independent Online
The Government is facing a revolt by MPs in the Commons tomorrow over its support for military action against Iraq. Although the size of the protest was unclear last night, some left-wingers suggested as many as 100 members might stay away rather than vote in favour of an Anglo- US strike against President Saddam Hussein.

At least half a dozen Labour MPs will vote against the Government. George Galloway, member for Glasgow Kelvin, said in a GMTV interview that he expected the figure to be between 20 and 30.

"But the key thing to watch out for is the number of members who are not in the lobby who found one reason or another not to be there voting for the war," he said. Tam Dalyell, member for Linlithgow, said rumours were circulating that there could be disciplinary action against the rebels.

"If they stay away and don't show up they will have no chance of being made parliamentary private secretaries or junior ministers. They will have the evil eye against them, a black mark," he said. Many MPs who had not yet spoken against the moves faced a dilemma because their constituencies opposed a war against President Saddam, he added.

"They have been getting letters from key party workers who sweated their guts out for them during the general election. There are a great number of profoundly unhappy MPs, because they don't know what the outcome can be, particularly the pollution outcome," he said.

On Friday Mr Dalyell read to the House a motion from his own constituency party which said neither Britain's interests nor the world's would be served by an attack which did not have wide support.

Yesterday he also wrote to the Defence Secretary, George Robertson, asking him to comment on claims that the defence chiefs of staff were unhappy about the prospect of war because they were unsure what its objectives were.

Tony Benn, member for Chesterfield, said he expected the Government to table a motion saying that if diplomatic solutions failed, a military solution would have to be used. Such a resolution would never be supported by the United Nations Security Council, he said.

"I am going to vote against it, and I think a number might go home or abstain," he said.

Ken Livingstone, the MP for Brent East, said he did not believe the number voting against would be as high as the 35 who opposed the last Gulf war in 1990.

"People are appalled about what we did to single parents, but it's very difficult for people to get worked up about Saddam Hussein to the same degree. You have also got some on the left who are campaigning against Saddam Hussein over his abuse of the Kurds," he said.

Mr Robertson dismissed claims that the chiefs of defence staff were questioning the war as "disgraceful and irresponsible" at such a sensitive time. He confirmed that biological weapons experts from Porton Down had met police to discuss emergency plans, but said an attack on Britain was unlikely, because President Saddam did not have the capacity to launch one at that distance. He would not give any clues as to when the action might start.

"I am not saying when the possibility of action is likely. We want diplomacy to work; there is a lot of activity in the United Nations. We will go the last mile, but patience is running out and time is certainly running out, and Saddam listens very carefully to all the straws in the wind and the main message he needs to get is that we are absolutely determined that he is going to comply," he said.