Thursday March 18, 2004
"I am not a pacifist. I am not against armed intervention...In future, people will ask how one nation could have thrown away the world's sympathy in such a way. Does anyone doubt that a nation of such power, influence and, in many ways, such genuine authority could have built the support that we needed if it believed that necessary? I am not indulging in anti-Americanism, but simply recognising that unilateralism on such a scale, no matter how legitimate the target, brings danger. ...turn many parts of the world against us, undermine friendly governments, fuel terrorism and those who will join it in the future, and make it more difficult to sustain international action against common problems. .."
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen): With regret, I resigned from the government this morning. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve the government and the prime minister since 1997. Although some have at times questioned the government's direction, I say with all honesty that not a day has passed when I have felt that I could not make some difference on the very issues that brought me into the Labour party 27 years ago. I shall certainly miss being part of the government.
The events of 9/11 must have brought home to us all the fact that we have created a world of great danger and great insecurity. That action must be taken, that we must tackle the sources and causes of insecurity, is not in doubt. But it is not simply a question of whether we take action; how we take action is also important. The reason for that is simple. If we act in the wrong way, we will create more of the problems that we aim to tackle. For every cause of insecurity with which we try to deal, we shall create a new one.
I am not a pacifist. I am not against armed intervention. In 1992, I was one of the Labour members of parliament who called for much earlier intervention in Bosnia. I shall never forget the surprised and bemused expression on John Smith's face when some 20 newly elected Labour members of parliament went to see him to demand Labour support for a foreign war. I believe that we should have supported it, and that, had we done so, Balkan history might be different. I supported our action in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.
After 9/11, however, it should have been clear that the scale and nature of the threats to global security required the world community to come together on an unprecedented scale, not only to defeat terrorism, but to tackle the conflicts that give rise to it and other threats. For a time, not least thanks to our prime minister, such coming together seemed possible. Today, the prospect is severely damaged, if not in disarray. That has happened not simply or primarily because of one country across the channel, unprincipled and disastrously unilateral in its way though France has been. It has happened because those who wish to take action now, and in the way in which we are considering, have failed to persuade others and thus create international consensus on the need to do so.
The question for me has never been one of narrow legality. I was in the Home Office long enough to know that lawyers are the last thing one needs when things are difficult. It is a question not of one or two votes either way in the security council, but of whether we can put our hands on our hearts and say that the majority of those who should support us do so. I do not believe that they do.
I do not blame the prime minister for that. No one could have worked harder to forge consensus. His achievements are real, not least in persuading the US administration to take the UN route. However, our prime minister has been ill served by those whom he sought to influence. The US administration appear at times to delight in stressing their disdain for international opinion and in asserting their right to determine not only the target but the means and the timetable, their gratuitous actions apparently designed to make a common voice impossible, not least here in Europe. That has made the international coming together that we need impossible to achieve.
In future, people will ask how one nation could have thrown away the world's sympathy in such a way. Does anyone doubt that a nation of such power, influence and, in many ways, such genuine authority could have built the support that we needed if it believed that necessary? I am not indulging in anti-Americanism, but simply recognising that unilateralism on such a scale, no matter how legitimate the target, brings danger.
The action against Iraq is, I believe, pre-emptive, and therefore demands even greater international support and consensus than other sorts of intervention. We do not have it. Such isolation entails a genuine cost and danger. It undermines the legitimacy that we must maintain to tackle the many threats to global security. It fuels the movements that are antipathetic to our values and way of life, and the view, which is probably the reality, that in an interdependent world, one nation reserves the right to determine which of the world's problems should be tackled, when, where and in what way.
Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth): Will the right hon. gentleman give way?
Mr. Denham: I shall not give way. I have never made a resignation speech before, and I should like to get to the end of it.
The right hon. member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) set out a powerful case for support for a US that acts in the manner I described. If I believed that that would work, I could swallow my qualms and sign up for that with the right hon. gentleman. But I do not. I believe that the reaction to such a method of working will be as dangerous as the problems that we are trying to solve. It will turn many parts of the world against us, undermine friendly governments, fuel terrorism and those who will join it in the future, and make it more difficult to sustain international action against common problems.
If the motion were on the honesty, integrity, commitment and sheer courage of our prime minister, I would not hesitate to support it. However, we are voting not for that but for the words on the order paper and the consequences that will follow in the weeks, months and years ahead. I cannot support it.
My final point is a difficult one. I, too, have constituents who are in our armed forces in the Gulf, and their families at home. The failures of governments and of the international community are not their failings. Although I clearly do not believe that we should commit our troops to action now, they should not feel that they are on the wrong side, that the enemy they face is not evil or that the world would not be a better place without Saddam Hussein.
If the vote of the house commits our troops to fight, we must stand with them. We may have failed them; I doubt whether they will fail us.
Full debate and the list of MPs who supported the rebel amendment