Blair 'dishonest, shallow and cheap' in justifying Bush visit, says Cook

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Indy Politics

Robin Cook has accused Tony Blair of making dishonest, shallow and cheap arguments to justify next week's controversial state visit to Britain by President George Bush.

Writing in The Independent today, the former cabinet minister discloses that a proposed state visit by Bill Clinton was blocked because of the Monica Lewinsky affair.

He says: "I was Foreign Secretary at the time the Royal Visits Committee quietly dropped President Clinton from the forward programme of state visits because of his impending impeachment. I am bewildered that the same committee that concluded Bill Clinton did not merit a state visit has decided that George Bush has the stronger claim to be so honoured."

Mr Cook attacks Mr Blair for attributing the huge protests planned next week to "resurgent anti-Americanism". He says this is "a dishonest, shallow, cheap argument, not worthy of such a consummate communicator ... It is entirely possible to want warm relations with the American people while keeping a prudent distance from the foreign adventures of President Bush."

Mr Cook, who resigned from the Cabinet before the Iraq war, says: "The state visit is the latest episode in a relationship with the Bush administration that has remained so one-sided that it has become an affront to our national dignity."

He urges the Prime Minister to revive Britain's self-respect by standing up to President Bush's foreign policy, notably by internationalising the political process in Iraq through the United Nations. If Downing Street's relationship with the Bush White House is to survive, he says, it must evolve into a "two-way street".

Mr Cook warns: "If the state visit takes on the character of the US boss visiting his wholly owned British subsidiary it will do further damage to relations with the Bush administration in the eyes of the British public and further diminish the stature of their Prime Minister."

The former foreign secretary also warns that the first state visit by an American president since 1918 could harm Labour's allies in the US Democrats in next year's Presidential election. "It is pretty perverse of us to make their task even tougher by offering up Buckingham Palace as the mother of all photo-ops for President Bush," he says.

Last night President Bush said he and his wife, Laura, were looking forward to staying with the Queen at the palace. He said he was braced for huge anti-war demonstrations but would defend America's actions. In an interview with the Press Association, he said: "I admire a country which welcomes people to express their opinion. I'm proud of Great Britain's tradition of free speech."

He added: "I can understand people not liking war, if that's what they're there to protest. I don't like war. War is the last choice a president should make, not the first. And it was the last choice, after endless years of diplomacy took place."President Bush also confirmed that he would visit Mr Blair's Sedgefield constituency, and warned: "My Geordie is probably just about as bad as my English."