Pressure Mounts on Blair in UN 'Spying' Row
By Jamie Lyons, Political Correspondent, PA News
Tony Blair was tonight under mounting pressure to reveal if Clare Short’s United Nations bugging claims were true after fresh revelations of spying.
The phones of former UN chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Richard Butler were tapped while they were on missions abroad, it was claimed.
Labour backbenchers joined Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy in demanding the Prime Minister comes clean on the row.
But former International Development Secretary Ms Short was facing a Labour backlash after claiming British agents had bugged UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the run-up to the Iraq war.
Home Secretary David Blunkett refused to rule out an investigation into her apparent breach of the Official Secrets Act.
Mr Blair did not mention the matter in a speech to the Labour Party’s Scottish Conference in Inverness.
Australian radio reported that Mr Blix’s phone was bugged whenever he was in Iraq and the information shared between the United States, Britain and their allies.
Mr Butler said he was “well aware” that his phone calls were being monitored during his tenure.
He claimed he was forced to hold confidential talks with contacts on walks in New York’s Central Park because of the phone tapping in his office at the UN headquarters while he was investigating Iraq’s weapons programme.
He told ABC radio: “Of course I was (bugged). I was well aware of it. How did I know? Because those who did it would come to me and show me the recordings that they had made on others to help me do my job disarming Iraq.”
Mr Kennedy said Mr Blair must now tell MPs if Ms Short’s claims were true.
His call was backed by Labour backbencher John McDonnell. He will table a Commons motion next week demanding to know if there was an “eavesdropping operation” and if so, how extensive it was.
Mr Blair on Thursday accused Ms Short of jeopardising national security with her claims.
Her one-time deputy at the Department for International Development, George Foulkes, launched a scathing attack on his former boss.
“This is the latest outburst from Clare,” he said. “There has been a pattern since she ceased being a minister of constant attacks on the Labour Government and particularly on Tony Blair.
“She has got a clear political agenda here and this is just the latest part of it.”
Ex-Scotland Secretary Helen Liddell said Ms Short’s claims were “completely unsubstantiated”, adding: “I think a period of silence from Clare might be appreciated.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult to work out where Clare is coming from. This is a pattern of behaviour that really is confounding her friends and colleagues and I don’t think it is doing the country any good.”
Leading backbench loyalist Jack Cunningham said former ministers must not forget their obligations when they left the Cabinet.
“There is a question of personal commitment to the solidarity and collective responsibility of accepting such a position in the first place,” he told the BBC.
“Clare seems to have abandoned all those obligations which she freely accepted and undertook when she joined the Cabinet six years ago.”
Mr Blunkett said Ms Short could face legal action over her comments. He cast doubt on her claims to have seen transcripts of the telephone conversations of Mr Annan, saying she had not had clearance to see all security material.
Mr Blunkett said the issue would have to be looked at in the “cold light of day”.
Asked if he was requesting Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir John Stevens to investigate, he said: “No, I’m not.”
When pressed on whether that meant an investigation had been ruled out, Mr Blunkett, speaking at Scotland Yard, said: “I didn’t say there will be no investigation.
“We are taking a look at what is necessary to do in the cold light of day rather than on the back of a radio interview by a former Cabinet minister.”
Mr Blunkett said he had never been shown transcripts of Mr Annan’s conversations.
“I wasn’t shown any transcripts and I am one of the very few people – and Clare Short is not one of them – who have clearance for the full security material that comes through,” he told the BBC.