Margaret Beckett: You Ask The Questions

The Foreign Secretary answers your questions, such as: "Have you betrayed your principles" and "Did Gordon Brown support the war?"
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The Independent Online

Would you admit the war in Iraq has been a mistake and that the Prime Minister should resign? GEORGE WHITFIELD, by e-mail

No to both questions. For the first time in Iraq's history, they have a democratically elected government and Saddam Hussein, who killed millions of his own countrymen, is being tried in a court for his crimes. Despite the violence which is affecting parts of Iraq, they now have the opportunity, with our help, to develop a country which will play a leading role in the region.

Do you think that in time, history will judge the invasion of Iraq a success? M AHMAD, Coventry

No one can predict what judgement history will make about Iraq, but if we are able to put it back on its feet and to leave it with an elected government which is at the service of the people, that will be for the first time almost in living memory.

Did Gordon Brown unequivocally and unreservedly support the invasion of Iraq in 2003? GARY CHAMBERS, Istanbul

The decision to commit British forces to military action in Iraq was taken by the Cabinet and as such we all abide by collective responsibility.

Do you and your cabinet colleagues feel any sense of personal shame that you so meekly toed the line on the decision to go to war in Iraq? DOMINIC FORREST, by e-mail

No, we did not "toe the line". We took the decision after much painful consideration and in good conscience on the basis of the evidence before us. And I believe it was the right decision.

Do you feel guilt about the tens of thousands of innocents who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq? SEAN MOCLAIR, by e-mail

Any death in Iraq or Afghanistan is of immense concern, but it is important to recall what is at stake in both countries. The vast majority of all recent deaths have taken place at the hands of those who can only offer violence. The political leaders in Afghanistan and Iraq have been overwhelmingly elected by their fellow citizens and they are endeavouring to build a democracy, and to bring stability and economic development. As long as they need us, we need to continue to support them.

George Bush is warning the "sovereign" Iraqi government that US patience is "not unlimited". Is it reasonable to shift responsibility for the mess on to the shoulders of the Iraqi Prime Minister? BERNADETTE FAHY, Hanoi

The Iraqi Prime Minister and government are facing enormous obstacles and if this new democracy is to have a chance of succeeding, the Iraqi people need the backing of the international community. We have a democracy which has developed over hundreds of years, but the Iraqis are just embarking on this path against a background of continuing violence. Of course, we would like the pace of recovery and tackling security to increase but we will stay until the job is done. That is until the Iraqi security forces can take full responsibility for their own security.

Is it true you said "Oh fuck" when offered the job of Foreign Secretary and why were you apparently so reluctant to take it on? TIM SOMERSBY, Edinburgh

I did, for an instant, resort to less than diplomatic words out of sheer surprise ... it was not a move I was expecting.

What's it like to give up almost every value you ever believed in, and be the Foreign Secretary for that appallingly vacuous liar Mr Blair? BRENDAN MCCARTHY, Pimlico, London.

I totally reject everything you say.

What would the young Margaret Beckett have made of your silence during Israel's bombardment of Lebanon? JULIAN PHILLIPS, by e-mail

I wasn't silent. Together with fellow foreign ministers from the EU and beyond, I called on every occasion for a cessation of hostilities and of violence, while working intensively behind the scenes to try to bring such cessation about.

How would you define a war crime? LEONARD BOWEN, London

Just as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines it.

How can you contemplate partition as a solution in Iraq when our experiences in Ireland, the Indian sub-continent and Palestine demonstrate that it merely fuels hate for years to come? RAJ KOTHARI, by e-mail

I have never advocated partition as a solution in Iraq nor would I ever do so. I have called continually for the government of national unity in Iraq to be supported. I take no responsibility for suggestions made to me by journalists who then attempt to print their words as mine.

When you first joined Labour, did you ever think you would go on to betray every socialist principle you ever had, by helping to carry out the illegal foreign policy of a Republican president and the domestic policy of a Tory prime minister in Labour clothes? CHRIS FRASER, Nottingham

When I joined the Labour Party I did so because I hoped in this country and abroad to try to help end poverty and spread social justice. That is how I have spent my life.

The US and UK justify their foreign policies in Iraq and Afghanistan with the argument that they are defending democracy and freedom. How do you account for the lack of consistency when it comes to Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe? RICHARD WILLIAMS, by e-mail

We argue consistently to defend democracy and freedom in every part of the world.

When will the UK stop hiding behind the fear of being painted as a former colonial master and DO something about Zimbabwe? KIM LEPPER, Cheshire

We have led the EU's consensus to maintain a strong sanctions regime on the Zimbabwean government; we were instrumental in ensuring that Zimbabwe was not re-admitted to the Commonwealth; we have supported the development of civil society in Zimbabwe through programmes designed to help all those working for peaceful democratic dialogue; and we are the largest bilateral donor of much-needed humanitarian assistance

What is your favourite foreign country that you have visited? STEPHEN LING, Wilmslow

I have no favourite.

Jack Straw provided an assurance that war against Iran was "inconceivable". Can you provide that same assurance? MARCUS WILLIAMSON, by e-mail

No one is talking about war against Iran. Indeed, you may have noticed, ever since I became Foreign Secretary, the international community has been trying very hard to convince Iran that they should enter into peaceful negotiations. Sadly, so far Iran has refused.

It's been reported that you claimed £65,000 in accommodation expenses over the past four years even though a grace and favour home comes with your job. If true, how on earth can you justify such lavish allowances? THOMAS SAUNDERS, Kent

We do not receive any accommodation free of charge. Any claims made would not be accepted if they were in breach of the rules.

What measures can we persuade all EU countries to adopt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3 per cent each year? GEOFF FIRMIN, Epsom, Surrey

Annual targets aren't really practical, but all of us in Europe and beyond must cut our carbon emissions drastically. One key objective the Government is pursuing is the inclusion of aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme by 2007.

Why do you and so many of your fellow MPs insist on flying to Brussels when there is a more environmentally friendly alternative in Eurostar? DAVE BEALES, Wincanton, Somerset

Many of the meetings I attend either start or finish at times which make using the Eurostar impractical - if only because it might involve many unproductive hours of hanging around. We simply do not have the luxury of spending time so unprofitably.

What is the Foreign Office doing to secure the release of Mirza Tahir Hussain, scheduled to be executed in Pakistan in December? TILLY LAVENAS, Uplyme, Dorset

The Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister, ministers and officials have all made representations to the Pakistani government on behalf of Mr Hussain. We will continue to do all that we can on his behalf but we recognise that this is a sovereign decision for the government of Pakistan.

People used to say you looked like Princess Anne. Who was more upset by that do you think, you or her? FRANCIS LETTS, by e-mail

Since she is both younger and prettier than me, I should imagine she was.

What's wrong with talking to North Korea? CIRAJ KHAN, Cambridge

Nothing. We want North Korea to return to six-party talks.

Would you favour quotas or positive discrimination to help women get on in politics? FRAN NORTON, Co Antrim

I supported women-only shortlists as a way of redressing the under-representation of women in the House of Commons.

Do you feel you have had an unfairly negative press, just because you are a female foreign secretary? KAREN WOZNIAK, London

It is hard to judge but few of my male predecessors have had any interest taken in their wardrobe.

Would foreign policy have different priorities if conducted exclusively by women? LAURENCE RYBORG, by e-mail

Sadly, we will probably never know but my guess is a woman's way of doing business would be different even if the priorities remained unchanged.

Do you approve of Madonna's Malawian adoption? GERRY BLAKE, London

This is a personal choice and both families deserve the respect of being left alone by the media.

Are you ashamed that Britain, which championed EU expansion and open markets, will now keep out Bulgarian and Romanian workers? HARRIET DAWKINS, Bristol

Romania and Bulgaria enjoy the UK's full support for their membership of the EU. It is simply not true to say we will keep out workers. There will be no restrictions on self-employed workers. Highly skilled workers and those with specialist skills will be able to work in the UK where they meet existing criteria and students will continue to be able to work part time.

When you were leader of the Labour Party in 1994 you stuck to your principles and said you were a member of CND. Are you still a member of CND? If not, when did you let your membership lapse? ALEX ORLANDI, Glasgow

I am not exactly sure when my membership lapsed. It may have been around the time of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. Certainly it was when it seemed to me that CND - which has done much good over the years - had become a pacifist organisation. I honour pacifists for their principles, but I have never shared them.

Do you have a routine for getting to sleep on long-haul flights so you can keep alert during discussions with world leaders? DEE MCNAMARA, Belfast

I rarely sleep on long flights, needing the time to work on papers or read briefings without the usual interruptions.

What is the best thing about being Foreign Secretary, and what's the worst? MARY TRABUCCO, by e-mail

The best thing is making a difference at a critical time for the world. The worst is getting the time to do the ordinary things everyone else takes for granted.

Do you have a stylist? And what advice would you give a woman wanting to follow in your footsteps in politics when it comes to clothes, hair etc? KATHY SINCLAIR, Glasgow

No. The only advice I would give is to make your own choices and stand by them.

I have followed your political life with interest and do wonder if you have a belief in God and do you pray before important political decisions? G PATRICK BATTELL, by e-mail

I never discuss my personal beliefs.

How many miles per gallon do you typically achieve towing your caravan around Europe on holiday? Surely you can afford to use guesthouses, and so emit much less carbon per JIM ROLAND, London

If there is one area human beings should be allowed some free choice, it is the holidays they choose.

What do you say to all those people you've held up on the roads behind your caravan? TOM SMITH, London

We do not hold people up - we travel at the normal speed of traffic flow.

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