Blair ponders return as Muslims hit out

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair has been warned by leading British Muslims that the Iraq war and the UK's failure to use its influence to end Israeli attacks on civilians are fuelling extremism at home. Their views are set out in a letter as a full-page advertisement in newspapers.

The letter warns: "The debacle of Iraq and now the failure to do more to secure an immediate end to the attacks on civilians in the Middle East not only increases the risk to ordinary people in that region, it is also ammunition to extremists who threaten us all."

It was signed by three of the four Muslim MPs - Sadiq Khan, Shahid Malik and Mohammed Sarwar - as well as three of the four Muslim members of the House of Lords - Lord Patel of Blackburn, Lord Ahmed of Rotherham and Baroness Uddin. It was also backed by 38 Muslim groups, including the Muslim Council of Britain, the Muslim Association of Britain, the British Muslim Forum and the British Muslim Forum.

Mr Khan said the Government's Middle East policy was seen as "unfair and unjust" by many people. "Whether we like it or not, such a sense of injustice plays into the hands of extremists," he said.

While Mr Blair - on holiday in Barbados - was keeping in regular touch, Downing Street had made contingency plans for him to fly back if events warrant it. Aides admitted that the Prime Minister would not have left on Tuesday had he known that police were about to arrest alleged terrorist plotters, and said the situation was being kept "under review".

A separate problem affecting Mr Blair's plans is the increasing number of MPs who say they want to interrupt their summer holidays to hold an emergency debate on the Middle East. The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, was sent a letter signed by 100 Labour MPs urging a recall of Parliament. The demands for a recall are coming mainly from MPs who think that Mr Blair has taken a line on the Lebanon conflict that too closely mirrors views of Israel and the US.

... and finally Prescott appears

John Prescott emerged from behind closed doors last night for the first time during the terrorist crisis that brought Britain's airports to a standstill. He had suffered two days of speculation about who was running the country in the absence of Tony Blair ­ whether it was the Deputy Prime Minister, who was nowhere to be seen, or the highly visible Home Secretary, John Reid.

Yesterday he was said to be "incandescent with rage" at reports that he had been shunted aside, but he made no public statement until last night. "The last 36 hours have been extraordinary in the efforts to protect this country," he said. "Our security services, police, transport staff and aviation companies have shown real dedication for which we express our deepest appreciation."

Earlier, Mr Reid had said it was normal for the Home Secretary to chair cabinet committee meetings like this, even if the Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister were present. "There is nothing unusual in that whatsoever," he said. "Both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister remain fully briefed."

Andy McSmith