Tories' support for action is waning

On the brink of war: Pressure on the Prime Minister

By Andy McSmith
Sunday 16 February 2003 01:00

Support for war with Iraq is slipping even on the right of British politics, according to a former chairman of the Conservative Party.

John Gummer, who was promoted by Margaret Thatcher soon after the Falklands War, has accused the Prime Minister of failing to make the "fundamental moral case" for attacking Iraq.

Mr Gummer is a leading figure in an unlikely cross-party grouping that has told Tony Blair that even a second United Nations resolution authorising military action would not necessarily convince them that it is right for British troops to take part in a war.

So far the group has the backing of 119 MPs, 84 of whom are Labour, including two former members of Tony Blair's Cabinet, Chris Smith and Gavin Strang.

All have signed a motion drawn up by the senior Tory MP Douglas Hogg, who was the foreign minister in charge of relations with the Middle East at the time of the 1991 Gulf War, setting four conditions which they say must be met before Britain takes part in a military strike against Iraq.

They say there must be "clear evidence that Iraq poses an imminent threat to peace", a vote in the House of Commons authorising military action, a second resolution by the UN also authorising an attack, and that all other means of disarming Iraq have to have been tried and "exhausted".

Mr Gummer, a former member of the Church of England synod who later converted to Roman Catholicism, claimed that "moral" opinion – from the Pope to the chairman of the Free Church council – has shown an extraordinary unanimity in opposing the impending war.

He also stated thateven the right wing of the Conservative Party is deeply divided over the war. "In the conviction stakes, the Prime Minister is not doing very well," he said.

"He has worked long and hard to win public opinion, and the number of people who support him is declining. It's declining on the right as well as on the left.

"The fundamental issue for me is whether this can be a just war. If we are going to go unilateral – and I have always opposed unilateralism – you set a precedent for other people which is very frightening, particularly when you fail to address a fundamental issue like the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is not credible to confront this issue when you don't confront the terrorism of Arafat and Sharon."

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