Even voices of the right express doubts

Conservative MPs break ranks to join prominent figures from across public life who are opposed to the looming conflict

By Andy McSmith
Sunday 26 January 2003 01:00

Iain Duncan Smith is struggling to prevent cracks from opening up in the Tory ranks over his unequivocal backing for US action in Iraq.

Every Conservative MP has been instructed by pager message not to voice doubts about a possible war to journalists, but to share them privately with Mr Duncan Smith or the chief whip, David Maclean.

Despite this warning, several Tories have openly dissented from the party line.

The Tory dissent was reflected last night by Yougov poll results showing just 20 per cent of people thinking British troops should join US forces in Iraq without UN backing; 68 per cent said they had not been convinced by Tony Blair that Saddam Hussein was dangerous enough to justify military action. But the poll of almost 2,000 found 72 per cent would support war if the UN sanctioned it.

Jonathan Sayeed, a shadow Environment minister, told the Commons last week that he had heard no convincing case for war. "Every television company will broadcast to the world ... harrowing pictures of the human catastrophe that warfare leaves ... and the closer war comes to Baghdad the greater will be the innocent casualties." Another shadow minister told The Independent on Sunday: "We are about as divided as the Labour Party. I spoke to the executive of my constituency party, who are mostly elderly, some with military backgrounds. They were two to one against war."

Kenneth Clarke has warned that opinion in "Middle England" and across Europe wants the US to be more "restrained" in dealing with Iraq. He told the BBC's Question Time: "My fear is that they decided to go to war three months ago. I have a feeling there is a little blue pencil mark around a date some time before it gets too hot in Iraq, and what happens with the UN may be irrelevant."

One of the most eloquent pleas against war was from Tory MP Patrick Mercer,an army officer for 26 years, who served in Uganda, Ulster and Bosnia. He was scathing about Mr Blair's promise that if the US went to war, Britain would be prepared to pay the "blood price" to support its ally. Mr Blair had "never seen war or heard a shot fired in anger", yet was about to commit young people "into harm's way, without understanding the full implications", he said.

Mr Duncan Smith has already angered Arabists in his party by alleging that EU aid to Palestinians "could be financing explosives used to attack Israeli civilians".

Kenneth Clarke, former Chancellor

They are going to have to come up with some evidence, which they are not able to do. British opinion wants a more restrained approach

Lord Hurd, Foreign Secretary 1989-95

War against an Arab nation requires at least tacit Arab support. Arab public opinion is focused on the sufferings of the Palestinian people.

Douglas Hogg, Foreign Office minister 1990-5

When we authorise war we sanction action that may result in the deaths of thousands of our own troops and citizens, but also the Iraqis.

Patrick Mercer, Tory MP, ex-army officer

We backed America in Afghanistan [and now in Iraq]. Where else might such an approach lead? Let us decide where our loyalties and our duty lie.

Jonathan Sayeed, Tory MP

Is there a greater threat from Iraq now than there was before 11 September? To date, the Government has not made the case for war.

Edward Leigh, Tory MP

I do not believe that it is the job of the UN to change a regime in the Middle East. There are nearly 30 Arab nations, and not one is a democracy.

Ian Taylor, Tory MP

America has failed to find Osama bin Laden, so one has the feeling that it has decided that it has to find someone else to be at war with. It happens to be Iraq.

Sir Peter Tapsell, Tory MP

Although the regime in Iraq is terrible, its links with international terrorism have been less than those in other states, including Syria.

Robert Skidelsky, historian, Tory peer

Why is it so urgent to disarm Saddam? It's inconceivable that he will launch another foreign adventure of the kind he launched in 1991.

Peter Ainsworth, former member of the Shadow Cabinet

People wonder if Blair's stance is determined by national interest or by a personal interest in strutting the world stage.

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