Minister Who Criticized Blair Resigns


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Posted by Sadie from ? (160.129.202.39) on Monday, May 12, 2003 at 11:45AM :

Published on Monday, May 12, 2003 by the Associated Press

Minister Who Criticized Blair's Iraq Policy Quits
by Michael McDonough

LONDON - A senior minister who called Prime Minister Tony Blair's policy on Iraq "reckless," but clung to office through the war, resigned from the Cabinet on Monday.

Clare Short's decision to step down as secretary for International Development followed a fresh controversy over her missing a critical House of Commons vote last week on the government's new hospitals policy.

"I am afraid that the assurances you gave me about the need for a U.N. mandate to establish a legitimate Iraqi government have been breached," Short said in her resignation letter to Blair.

She accused Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of "secretly" negotiating a U.N. Security Council resolution, which she said contradicted assurances she had given to lawmakers.

"This makes my position impossible," the letter stated. "I am sad and sorry that it has ended like this."

Short outraged some and puzzled many when she didn't follow through on a threat to resign from Blair's Cabinet if he committed Britain to an Iraq war that lacked U.N. backing.

She violated a longstanding rule that bars Cabinet members from openly criticizing government policy when, in a British Broadcasting Corp. radio interview, she used harsh language to disagree with Blair's Iraq stance.

"I'm afraid that I think the whole atmosphere of the current situation is deeply reckless - reckless for the world, reckless for the undermining of the U.N. in this disorderly world ... reckless with our government, reckless with his own future, position and place in history," she said in the interview on March 9.

With dissent brewing in his Labor Party ahead of the war, most thought Blair would fire Short immediately.

But he didn't, and when war came - without the U.N. mandate Short had demanded - she stayed put.

Short, 57, was well-regarded in the international development world and won praise for her role in distributing aid to Afghanistan following the U.S.-led war there.

She was widely seen as the most prominent representative in Blair's centrist Cabinet of Labor's left wing, and some thought the prime minister tolerated her outspokenness in hopes of smoothing relations with more liberal members of his party.

Nine days after the interview condemning Blair's policy as reckless, she announced she would vote for a House of Commons resolution backing war.

Later, as the fighting in Iraq wound down, she said many in the governing Labor Party remained deeply concerned, despite the defeat of Saddam Hussein.

"I am pleased to be a part of a party that is deeply troubled by a war," she said. "It is too early to decide what the long term affect on the prime minister is."

She declined then to say whether she still thought the war had been reckless.

"All the members of the Security Council could have done better. The only thing for us to do is stand by the people of Iraq and help them rebuild their country," she said.

Opposition lawmakers and some British newspapers pilloried her for failing to follow through on her promise to step down, but she said she it was wrong to give up her international development job when such a daunting rebuilding task was imminent.

Short raised more eyebrows when she failed to turn up for last week's important vote in the House of Commons on government plans for reform of the health service. She later said she had made a mistake over the timing of the vote, which the government won despite opposition from 65 lawmakers from Blair's own Labor Party.

Valerie Amos, currently minister for Africa, will replace Short, Blair's office said.

The Guyana-born woman will becomes Britain's second-ever black Cabinet minister. Paul Boateng, appointed chief secretary to the Treasury last year, was the first.

Amos traveled to Cameroon, Angola and Guinea in the run-up to war to urge the leaders of those countries to support the United States and Britain in the U.N. Security Council.

2003 The Associated Press




-- Sadie
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