Minister quits while Brown aide wants MPs to discuss conflict

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair suffered the first Government resignation over the Lebanon conflict last night when the MP Jim Sheridan quit his post as unpaid parliamentary aide to the defence ministers.

Mr Sheridan, MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, was one of several junior members of the Government unhappy about Mr Blair's refusal to call for an immediate ceasefire. He was also angered by the US's use of Prestwick airport, near Glasgow, to refuel aircraft being used to ship bombs to Israel. "The reason I am resigning is the current conflict in the Middle East and once again the Palestinian situation has been put on the back burner," he told Sky News.

The resignation came on the same day that more than 130 MPs signed a letter to the Commons leader Jack Straw requesting Parliament be recalled.

Ann Keen, one of Gordon Brown's closest allies, who has served for several years as his unpaid parliamentary aide, signed the letter calling for the recall of parliament. Campaign organisers say that Paddy Tipping, the parliamentary aide to Mr Straw, has privately expressed support.

Along with Mr Sheridan, they believe the Prime Minister has stuck too closely to the pro-Israel line taken by President George Bush.

While he said he backed Mr Blair's domestic agenda, Mr Sheridan urged him to "reconsider his position" over his pro-American foreign policy. Mr Sheridan, who acquired the junior ministerial post in November, said: "I am a friend of the Prime Minister... sometimes it takes a friend to tell you to stand back from where you are and reconsider your position."

Mr Sheridan joined the calls for MPs to be pulled back from their summer leave to respond to the crisis in Lebanon, saying that Britiain would be "tainted by association" over the US's vision for the Middle East.

Mr Blair's foreign policy failed to reflect "core Labour values or indeed the country", he said. "Our Prime Minister is very well respected on the world stage. I am asking him to ask people to show some restraint. I think that the British have a major influence to play - especially in the Middle East. I am concerned by the special relationship that we have with the US.

"America has no interest in seeing any early resolution to this conflict and that makes us guilty by association. We need to be using our influence to knock heads together to bring this to an end sooner rather than later."

Mr Blair discussed the latest efforts by the UN to secure a ceasefire in Lebanon withMr Bush by telephone yesterday. A Downing Street spokesman said: "He is working hard to find a compromise with all concerned.

"His priority remains getting a resolution as quickly as possible because he wants the violence to stop."