Bishop attacks Blair as 'white vigilante'

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Indy Politics

One of Britain's most senior churchmen today accuses Tony Blair and George Bush of acting like "white vigilantes going into Brixton to stop drug dealing" in an outspoken attack on the war on Iraq.

In an interview with The Independent, the Right Rev Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, accuses the religious conservatives who back President Bush of espousing "a very strange distortion of Christianity", and calls for the creation of a UN army to settle international disputes.

Dr Wright says: "For Bush and Blair to go into Iraq together was like a bunch of white vigilantes going into Brixton to stop drug dealing. This is not to deny that there's a problem to be sorted, just that they are not credible people to do it."

There was further embarrassment for Mr Blair yesterday when Paul Bremer, the head of the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, dismissed as a "red herring" the Prime Minister's claims that "massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories" had already been uncovered in Iraq.

Mr Bremer told ITV's Jonathan Dimbleby programme: "I don't know where those words come from, but that is not what David Kay [head of the Iraq Survey Group] has said. I have read his reports, so I don't know who said that.

"It sounds like a bit of a red herring to me. It sounds like someone who doesn't agree with the policy sets up a red herring then knocks it down."

Mr Bremer was forced to backtrack after being told that Mr Blair had made the claim, in a Christmas broadcast to British troops in Iraq.

Downing Street stood by Mr Blair's comments, but Mr Bremer's words were seized on by critics of the war, who have accused Mr Blair of putting his own "spin" on the report by experts searching for Saddam Hussein's alleged arsenal of banned weapons.

Writing in The Independent, Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, said: "It is undignified for the Prime Minister, and worrying for his nation, to go on believing in a threat which everyone else can see was a fantasy. Nor will Tony Blair ever recover his credibility until he stops insisting he is right when the public can see he was wrong."

Liam Fox, co-chairman of the Conservative Party, said: "Once again the impression has been given of a prime minister willing to say anything to save his skin and of a Labour government divided, untrustworthy and seemingly incapable of telling the truth to the British people."