Ex-ministers round on 'doormat' Blair

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Furious former ministers accused Tony Blair last night of turning Britain into an "embarrassing and humiliating doormat" for the United States after the Prime Minister declared that he would "stand shoulder to shoulder" with President George Bush.

Furious former ministers accused Tony Blair last night of turning Britain into an "embarrassing and humiliating doormat" for the United States after the Prime Minister declared that he would "stand shoulder to shoulder" with President George Bush.

Mr Blair faced a backlash from senior former ministers after he underlined his commitment to Mr Bush in an interview in The Independent. One cabinet minister revealed that ministers are to express their anxiety about Mr Blair's unwavering support for the Bush administration on Iraq in a coded way, by attacking the American treatment of prisoners, saying: "The US strategy in Iraq has been a disaster.

"If you want to have any credibility for a British operation with its own clear identity, you need to be very clear that some of the atrocious behaviour in the prisons is not acceptable."

The flashpoint for backbench anger could come next week with an announcement by Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, of the deployment of up to 3,000 extra British troops to Iraq.

The former ministers Michael Meacher and Robin Cook led calls for Britain to set out a clear strategy for pulling out of Iraq. Mr Meacher, a former environment minister, said: "I would not support sending more troops to Iraq."

He said that the Government should follow the example of the Spanish in announcing its intention to pull out from Iraq. "I don't think there will ever be a reduction in the violence until most if not all the foreign troops have been withdrawn. If we haven't learnt the lesson of the past months, I find that just incredible. The bottom line is we must have an independent foreign policy. We must remain friends with the Americans but there are red lines in terms of the EU budget beyond which we should not go, and the same should apply in foreign policy.

"When it comes to the Americans, we seem frightened of saying anything. It is embarrassing and humiliating. Theyregard us as a convenient doormat for approaching the EU."

Mr Cook, a former foreign secretary, in an interview for GMTV to be screened tomorrow, said British troops were being put at risk by "standing shoulder to shoulder" with US troops responsible for the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison.

Mr Blair's allies in the Cabinet, including John Reid, the Health Secretary, Peter Hain, the Leader of the Commons, Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, and Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, rallied around Mr Blair at the cabinet meeting on Thursday. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, also got behind Mr Blair, saying the crisis over the treatment of prisoners had to be "put into perspective''.

Mr Meacher said: "We should be much straighter in criticising the American withdrawal from not just Kyoto [the greenhouse gas treaty], but the international criminal court, and the bio-weapons treaty.That would begin to repair some fences with the EU which have been seriously damaged."

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