Monday, November 14, 2005

UK : Blair faces new inquiry into Iraq war

MPs organising the campaign to impeach Tony Blair believe they have enough support to force a highly damaging Commons investigation into the Prime Minister’s pre-war conduct.A renewed attempt to impeach Blair over claims he misled parlia ment in making his case for war against Iraq, will be made in the Commons within the next two weeks.



The impeachment process effectively stalled last year when just 23 MPs signed a Commons motion. But the scale of the government’s defeat on its anti-terror legislation last week – where 49 Labour MPs rebelled – has galvanised the momentum for proceedings to be invoked.

Organisers say they are expecting 200 cross-party signatures, including those of former government ministers, to force the Commons to set up a Privy Council investigation that would examine in detail the case for impeachment against Blair.

The size of the Labour revolt, allied to unified opposition benches, is said to have changed the climate inside the Commons.

SNP leader, Alex Salmond, one of the key figures in the impeachment campaign, said he now believed that the cross-party attempt to bring the government to account over the Iraq war “would become more urgent than predicted problems associated with social legislation in England and Wales”.

Following the Commons defeat, it was predicted that future flashpoints for Blair would include a new education reform bill, likely to be presented next spring and new legislation to broaden reform inside the NHS with greater competition from the private sector.

Potential backbench revolts are also predicted if Blair makes any move to update the Trident nuclear programme or tries to introduce a new era of nuclear-generated energy.

Next month, a Green Paper on welfare reform, expected to include moves to cut incapacity benefit, was expected to be the first attack point for Labour dissidents.

However, any parliamentary success on the matter of impeachment is likely to over-shadow other issues.

If the promised signatures materialise, and a vote on the impeachment process is taken, the opportunity to deliver a substantial knock-down blow to Blair is not likely to be passed up by Labour rebels and opposition alike.

One MP last night: “This would be a golden opportunity. It would be pay-back time for Blair over the way he manipulated parliament before the Iraq war in 2003.

“Last week’s defeat changed the atmosphere in the Commons. The hunt is on, as they say.”

Although the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, has remained publicly loyal to Blair since the defeat, last night, one of Brown’s closest parliamentary allies disobeyed his call to back the Prime Minister unquestioningly.

The former Treasury minister, Geoffrey Robinson, insisted the Prime Minister had to allow his successor sufficient time to win a fourth term. The comment effectively challenges Blair’s claim that he will serve out a “full third term”.

Blair has acknowledged how difficult the task ahead of him now is. He said in a newspaper interview this weekend that he now faced “a rough ride” to push through his reform agenda. But he insisted there would be no spectacular U-turn, saying he was still determined to “continue doing what was right, not what is easy”.

An organiser of the impeachment campaign told the Sunday Herald : “We have been promised 200 signatures and are now hopeful this process will go ahead as it should have last year. There will be a vote and an investigation will be set up. Does this have the potential to finish Tony Blair? Yes it does.”

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