Kennedy: Euro poll is referendum on Iraq

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair's policy on Iraq would cost him seats at next month's Euro elections, the Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, warned yesterday as he accused the Prime Minister of "no longer speaking in Britain's name" on world issues.

Mr Kennedy, launching the Liberal Democrats' Euro campaign, said the June 10 poll would be a "good opportunity to send a very stark signal" to the Prime Minister about his backing for President Bush.

"People feel on the Iraq issue that they have not been listened to. Their views were substantially ignored," he said. "It is entirely appropriate that people should consider Iraq as well as other issues when they come to cast their vote."

The party hopes to make gains at next month's poll despite the reduction of Britain's seats in the European Parliament because of the enlargement of the EU. Mr Kennedy said he hoped to gain at least one new MEP in the North-East of England but party strategists believe they could gain up to four more seats.

The Liberal Democrats, traditionally the most pro-European party, appeared to play down issues such as Britain's membership of the Euro, instead focusing on Iraq. They stressed the need to reform EU institutions and to cut costs.

However, their manifesto stressed that co-operation with other European countries was "good for Britain" and that "Britain is made more powerful and more successful by working with the EU".

But Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat deputy leader, said Iraq remained a nagging issue for Tony Blair, who had still failed to answer questions about the justification for going to war. Sir Menzies questioned whether Iraqis would have complete power to run their own affairs after the hand-over of power by the coalition next month.

"The central question of whether we went to war on a flawed prospectus has never yet been answered," he said. "The weapons of mass destruction ... have never been found. And it is now almost universally accepted that they never will be."

The party believes it can capitalise on unease among Labour voters over Mr Blair's backing for Mr Bush over Iraq. Matthew Taylor MP, the chairman of the parliamentary party, said: "We want to turn discontent with the government into active support for us."

The Liberal Democrats now have 11 MEPs, including Bill Newton Dunn, who defected from the Tories. As well as gaining a first seat in the North-East, it hopes to see Saj Karim, a Muslim solicitor, elected as the party's second MEP in the North-West of England.