Published March 18, 2003
LONDON – Britain's House of Commons backed Prime Minister Tony Blair's Iraq policy on Tuesday, but a rebellion within his party grew as 138 Labor members voted against him.
Blair's willingness to follow Washington into a possible war to disarm Saddam Hussein has divided the Labor Party and put his government at possible risk. Public opinion is against military action, and two more members of Blair's Cabinet resigned Tuesday, one day after senior Cabinet minister Robin Cook's defection.
Yet with war appearing inevitable, Parliament supported Blair with generous margins.
Lawmakers voted 412 to 149 to use "all means necessary" for disarming Iraq. Before that, they voted 396 to 217 to defeat an amendment by Labor rebels that declared the case for war "has not yet been established."
The 217 votes included 138 Labor Party backbenchers -- the biggest party revolt since Blair came to power in 1997 and a serious embarrassment even though two-thirds of his lawmakers voted with him.
Speaking in a televised interview, Cook said Blair's leadership of the party was secure and that lawmakers who voted against him did so on principle. But he acknowledged that after an Iraq war, loyalties will have to be rebuilt -- within his party and on the world stage.
"It's very important that the United States and Europe have a close alliance and work together in order to particularly beat international terrorism," Cook said. "We've got to get back together."
Before Tuesday's votes, junior Health Minister Lord Hunt and Home Office Minister John Denham also abandoned Blair over Iraq.
During the pre-vote debate, Blair said the Iraq crisis would set the course for British security, the development of the United Nations and the relationship between Europe and the United States.
"It will determine the pattern of international politics for the next generation," the prime minister said.
Blair had been expected to win Tuesday's measures because he has the support of the opposition Conservative Party as well as many Labor lawmakers. There also have been signs of growing nationalism in Britain in support of the British troops massed in the Persian Gulf.
Labor lawmaker Peter Kilfoyle joined many other members of his party in arguing that military action against Saddam would be "illegal, immoral and illogical."
But Blair said backing away from conflict now "would put at hazard all that we hold dearest, turn the U.N. back into a talking shop, stifle the first steps of progress in the Middle East, leave the Iraqi people to the mercy of events on which we would have relinquished all power to influence for the better.
"I would not be party to such a course," he said.
Blair's defenders even included an old foe, former Conservative Party leader William Hague.
Hague said a war was in Britain's national interest, and he praised the prime minister for sustaining the country's close ties with Washington.
"The reason why the United States takes on so many responsibilities in the world is because others shirk those responsibilities," Hague said. "Those who will not venture out when there is a criminal coming down the street should not complain when somebody else acts as the policeman."