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[casi] from today's papers: 26-07-02

A. Prime minister sheds light on the details, Guardian, 26 July
B. Parliament and Iraq, Guardian, 26 July [leading article]
C. Blair says Commons vote is unnecessary for attack on Iraq, Independent,
26 July
D. Should Britain join an American invasion of Iraq?, Independent, 26 July
[opinion piece by Adrian Hamilton]
E. Mr Blair and his ministers can enjoy their holidays - but storm clouds
are gathering, Independent, 26 July [opinion piece by Steve Richards]
F. War on Iraq not imminent, says Blair, Daily Telegraph, 26 July
G. Invasion of Iraq is not imminent, says Blair, The Times, 26 July

Daily Telegraph:
The Times:

[Letter writers: remember to include your address and telephone number and
that the Times require exclusivity for the letters they publish]

Most, if not all, of today's coverage relates to Blair's Presidential-style
press conference yesterday at which he refused to commit himself to either a
Parliamentary vote on - or a UN mandate for - further military action
against Iraq.

Best wishes,


A. Prime minister sheds light on the details
Slide show aims to prove Blair's public service commitment

Nicholas Watt, political correspondent
Friday July 26, 2002
The Guardian

Tony Blair yesterday gave a graphic illustration of the minute detail which
passed across his desk as he attempted to tackle rising crime and to improve
key public services.

At his second televised press conference of the year in Downing Street, the
prime minister introduced a slide show which demonstrated that he probably
devoted more time than any other world leader to issues such as street crime
and bed blocking. Appearing in a relaxed mood, the prime minister spent
nearly 90 minutes answering questions on issues ranging from trade unions to


Highlighting his nervousness about improving public services, Mr Blair
admitted that he was personally involved in up to half of the work of his
public services "delivery unit".

Michael Barber, the former education professor who heads the delivery unit,
highlighted the enormous challenge facing the government when he unveiled a
series of graphs which showed that recorded robbery had shot up. Mr Blair
said that he was "bringing the full weight of the centre" to bear down on
street crime, adding: "The next few weeks are going to be critical if we are
successfully to reverse that rising trend."

Alarmed by the rising level of youth crime, with the number of offences
committed by 11 to 15-year-olds shooting up, the prime minister announced
the extension of a scheme to occupy youngsters over the summer. The "summer
splash scheme" would ensure that 48,000 young people between the ages of
nine and 17, in 10 "street crime hotspots", would take part in sports and
other activities over the summer.

Mr Blair's description of his intensive work was designed to demonstrate, as
MPs head off on their two-and-a-half-month summer recess, that he was
devoting an unprecedented amount of time to public services.

Northern Ireland

The prime minister indicated that he was losing patience with the Ulster
Unionist leader, David Trimble, who has raised the prospect of abandoning
the power sharing executive in the light of IRA violence.

Mr Blair, who announced on Wednesday that he would introduce a more rigorous
assessment of whether the IRA ceasefire is holding, said that unionists
should accept they have gained from the Good Friday agreement. "The idea
that unionists have got nothing from this is absurd," he said as he reeled
off a list of their gains. These were: securing Northern Ireland's place
within the United Kingdom; placing Sinn Fein in a "partitionist assembly";
all parties sitting in a power sharing executive; and persuading the Irish
Republic to give up its territorial claim to Northern Ireland.

But the prime minister admitted that no side could ever be satisfied. "You
do have messy compromises sometimes. You do have grey areas that are very
difficult and you have to assess constantly whether you are going one way or

Trade unions

Asked about the recent elections of a series of leftwing union leaders, Mr
Blair made clear that there would be no return to the "bad old days" as long
as he remained in Downing Street.

"My position is totally simple," he said. "We govern for the whole country.
The trade unions have a right to be listened to but they don't govern the
country. We govern the country because we were elected by the people."

Mr Blair, who praised the main trade union leaders for their "cooperative"
manner during a meeting last week, indicated that he was not worried by the
election of leftwingers such as the RMT's Bob Crow.

"You may get the odd trade union leader on a sort of political kick, but I
don't think most of them are in that way."

The euro

To the delight of pro-Europeans, who hope that a referendum on the euro will
be held in this parliament, the prime minister confirmed yesterday's
Guardian report that he has not postponed a poll.

He dismissed the suggestion that the recent volatility in world stock
markets could jeopardise a referendum and indicated that the assessment of
the five economic tests would be definitive. Some pro-Europeans had feared
that Gordon Brown would delay a referendum into the next parliament by
announcing there was no definitive proof that the tests had been met.


Unmoved by Labour leftwingers who expressed alarm at the prospect of a
military attack against Iraq, Mr Blair indicated that he was prepared to
take action without a UN mandate.

Insisting that action was not imminent, he said: "What is important is that
whatever action we take, should we take action, it is done in accordance
with international law. I don't think we can judge the issue of UN
resolutions at this present moment in time."

Asked how seriously he, as a committed Christian, would take the views of
the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams - who has voiced opposition
to military action against Iraq not sanctioned by a fresh UN resolution - Mr
Blair indicated he would be relatively relaxed about the comments of the new
head of the Anglican church. Mr Blair said: "He is perfectly entitled to
express his views, and why not?"

The prime minister also refused to offer MPs a vote on military action.
Parliament would be consulted, but he said: "I don't think there is any
point in getting into speculation at this point in time about the right way
to consult the House of Commons."

Conservative Blair

The lightest moment of the press conference came when the prime minister was
asked whether the 21-year-old Tony Blair would be unhappy with the politics
of today's Tony Blair.

Momentarily stumped for an answer, Mr Blair said: "No, probably not
actually." But he then added: "I think the 21-year-old was probably a little
more radical, but that is what 21-year-olds should be. You do, necessarily,
as you get older moderate your politics a bit. You also try to make sure
that there is a tie-up between the ideals and the practice."

B. Parliament and Iraq
Blair must be accountable not evasive

Friday July 26, 2002
The Guardian

It was a sign of the times that the first two questions that were posed to
Tony Blair at his latest Downing Street press conference yesterday concerned
Iraq. It was a sign which, having urged a wide national debate on the Iraq
issue, we greatly welcome. Would that we could say the same about the
answers. On Wednesday, in the final prime minister's question time before
the summer recess, three MPs had asked Mr Blair for reassurances on
parliament's role in the event of hostilities against Iraq. On each
occasion, Mr Blair gave replies that left room for uncertainty. Parliament
would be "properly consulted", Mr Blair said, but without saying at what
point of the process the "consultation" - whatever that means precisely in
any case - would take place. In one answer, he even appeared to say that a
decision to commit British troops against Iraq would be taken before any
parliamentary discussion of the subject.

Quite rightly, Iraq was again the first item on the questioners' agenda in
Downing Street yesterday. Yet Mr Blair's answers were no more clear in
response to the journalists than they were the previous day when he was
quizzed by MPs. Asked why he had declined to promise MPs a vote on Iraq, Mr
Blair said it was important to follow precedent, but that such a discussion
about procedure was premature. Later, Mr Blair tried to extend his room for
manoeuvre even further by saying that he was not going to pin himself to any
specific form of consultation on the issue of Iraq.

Mr Blair has been making serious and welcome efforts recently to make
himself and his government more accountable to parliament and to the public
(yesterday's press conference was one example of the process). But he is
being far too evasive here, and he should not be surprised that suspicions
about his intentions are growing. In fact, there are clear principles and
precedents for Mr Blair and parliament to follow, and the prime minister
should have committed himself explicitly to them. Here's what should happen.

First, Mr Blair should make clear that parliament will be kept informed at
every stage about important developments in regard to Iraq; in particular,
he should keep the cabinet, the other party leaders and senior backbench
officials, as well as the Speaker, fully briefed through the recess. Second,
there should be no hesitation about recalling parliament if and as soon as
events with regard to Iraq warrant it. Third, the recall should not
necessarily be limited to a single day, as it was when parliament was
recalled after September 11; the government must be prepared to be
continually accountable to MPs. Fourth, the government should allow both
Houses to vote on policy towards Iraq. Fifth, no decision to commit British
troops should be taken before parliament has had its chance to debate that
possibility. This is not the kind of crisis in which such decisions need to
be made before parliament can debate them. On the contrary, much of the
mobilisation against Iraq is extremely foreseeable, as this week's exchanges
clearly show.

None of these proposals is especially novel. All are based on precedent. It
is another sign of the times that Mr Blair is so cagey about committing
himself to such plain and straightforward lines of accountability if events
warrant it. It may well be that events will not; it was perfectly fair of
the prime minister to warn yesterday against "getting a bit ahead of
ourselves" on Iraq. But true accountability deserves no less. And so does
true political wisdom. For Mr Blair is going to need all the support he can

C. Blair says Commons vote is unnecessary for attack on Iraq
By Paul Waugh, Deputy Political Editor

26 July 2002

Blair says Commons vote is unnecessary for attack on Iraq

Adrian Hamilton: Should Britain join an American invasion of Iraq?

Steve Richards: Mr Blair and his ministers can enjoy their holidays - but
storm clouds are gathering

Tony Blair fuelled simmering discontent among Labour MPs yesterday when he
made it clear that Britain could back an attack on Iraq without a fresh
mandate from the UN or a vote in Parliament.

Speaking at his second set-piece press conference at Downing Street, the
Prime Minister said action against Saddam Hussein was "not imminent" but he
made no effort to rule it out.

In the wide-ranging, 90-minute briefing, Mr Blair also stressed that
plummeting stock markets would not affect his determination to join the euro
and admitted that the UK military base in Gibraltar could be shared with

Labour backbenchers have warned that any British support for a US-backed
invasion of Iraq would trigger the biggest rebellion Mr Blair has faced
since he became leader.

The issue dominated Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday when three
Labour MPs, including the former defence minister Peter Kilfoyle, urged Mr
Blair to consult the Commons before any strikes.

But Mr Blair insisted yesterday that he would follow previous practice on
action in Kosovo and Afghanistan, where MPs were not given a vote
beforehand. Asked why he had consistently declined to promise such a vote,
Mr Blair said: "Because it's important that if we do get to that situation
that we follow the precedents there have always been ... I am not going to
pin myself at this stage to any specific form of consultation.

"I actually think we are all getting a bit ahead of ourselves on the issue
of Iraq. As I have said before, action is not imminent; we are not at the
point of decision yet."

Mr Blair added that Rowan Williams, the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury,
was "perfectly entitled" to say he could not support military action unless
it was sanctioned by a new UN resolution.

Any action would be taken in accordance with international law, but
President Saddam had already breached 23 UN resolutions, many of which
covered weapons of mass destruction, he said.

The Iraqi regime's arms programme was uncovered during the Gulf war and
extensively documented by inspectors before their expulsion, according to Mr

"We can publish more evidence later and if it is appropriate we will. But
actually there is already an enormous amount of accumulated evidence of what
Iraq was up to," he said.

As if to underline his commitment to military action, Mr Blair said he was
sceptical as to whether the efforts of the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan,
to persuade the Iraqis to readmit weapons inspectors would succeed. "The
omens don't look very good frankly. The issue is: is there any point in
reviving those negotiations; I don't know, because it seems somewhat
unlikely that the Iraqis intend to comply with it."

Labour backbench MP Paul Flynn said Mr Blair's remarks were "very worrying
to many Labour MPs and to people outside politics". He told Radio 4's World
at One: "We might be engaging in a war, not with a man who lives in a cave,
but with the leader of a sophisticated modern state and who certainly
possesses, if not nuclear weapons, then biological and chemical weapons." He
said Mr Blair would be wise to listen to Dr Williams rather than President

During the 90-minute question-and-answer session, the Prime Minister said
that falling stock markets would not affect his assessment of Britain's
entry to the euro.

The "fundamentals" of the argument would not be influenced by the state of
stocks and shares, just as they were not affected by the fluctuations in the
currency markets, he said.

Scotching suggestions that he had abandoned having a referendum on the euro
until after the next general election, Mr Blair said he was not in favour of
a "rolling" review of the five economic tests if they were not met by next

On a lighter note, Mr Blair admitted that he was not as radical today as he
had been in his youth. He was no less idealistic but he was more pragmatic,
he said.

D. Should Britain join an American invasion of Iraq?
When push comes to shove, Blair is going to commit our troops to whatever
venture America decides upon
by Adrian Hamilton

26 July 2002

The Prime Minister would have us believe that to discuss the option of
direct intervention in Iraq would be not only unproductive but actually
wrong at this time. No decision, he argued once again yesterday, has been
made. So any debate in Parliament, let alone any revelation of government
thinking, would be pointless.

No it isn't. It is precisely now, before decisions are made, that we should
be discussing Iraq and Parliament should be allowed its say. To wait until
decisions are made will be too late. Any debate will be dismissed as
inappropriate when the lives of our boys are at stake.

Of course, one of the reasons why Tony Blair doesn't want to discuss it at
the moment is that he doesn't want to do anything to embarrass our relations
with the US. It's still possible that the whole problem could just go away,
so why rock the boat?

On this question, however, he is entirely in the hands of Washington. The
Prime Minister may or may not be sympathetic himself to the idea of
intervening to topple Saddam Hussein – and one suspects that Blair's natural
instincts are pretty militaristic on this as on Kosovo – but when push comes
to shove, he is going to commit British troops to whatever venture America
decides upon.

No one should doubt the seriousness of that option. For British and American
troops to go to war against another country specifically to unseat its
government is a breach of every international convention. For a Western army
to march deliberately on to Arab soil would arouse a wave of protest and
street feeling in the Middle East whose effects could be catastrophic. And
then how would you govern Iraq once you had changed the regime?

Almost everyone accepts that a change in regime would be a welcome
development. On that at least Washington has the full support of world
opinion, including the whole of the Middle East. Saddam is a peculiarly
nasty dictator who stands in breach of over a dozen UN resolutions trying to
tether him since the Gulf War. Given half a chance he would develop weapons
of mass destruction with which to threaten his neighbours (although there is
still some dispute as to whether he has developed any).

Nor is there anyone who thinks that the present policy of containment
through sanctions and aerial patrolling is satisfactory as a long term means
of controlling the beast. It has kept him caged but at immense cost in
civilian lives and Arab public opinion.

But it is a huge jump from concurring on that to taking direct action to
bring him down. All the considerations that prevented the Allies bringing
the Gulf war to a successful conclusion in Baghdad still obtain, even more
so. In contrast to its experience in Afghanistan, the US cannot use air
power alone to change the balance on the ground in favour of opposition
forces. There is no Northern Alliance ready to take over Iraq.

There are the separatist forces of Kurds in the north and the Shia in the
south. But then you are in the game of dismembering Iraq to the
consternation of America's allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The democratic
opposition is weak and divided. Everything that the Allies have done so far
to contain Saddam in the way of sanctions and air strikes has served to
increase his power and his standing as a victim through the Middle East.

And all this is quite aside from the morality of intervening directly to
topple a regime because you dislike it. The Allies didn't do that even in
the case of Slobodan Milosevic.

It is the practical problems rather than the moral ones that hold back
Washington at the moment. If it could have found effective allies on the
ground, it would have sent in the bombers months ago. It would still hope,
no doubt, to do a deal with the generals in Baghdad to topple their
President or to assassinate the man, would that were possible. But if it is
not, and if Saddam should still prove unwilling to allow in UN inspectors
(as seems to be the case), then the Pentagon is prepared to send in a strike
force of troops as well as missiles.

This is where the Europeans, and many in Britain, would part company with
the US. It's not just a question of morality or legality, it is a question
of how you define the nature of the threat of 11 September. For the
Americans, the primary threat to security remains that from rogue states
left by the Cold War with the resources and the technology to launch attacks
on the US. Change the regimes in Iraq and Iran and you improve your safety.

For the Europeans, the security threat comes from the bitter regional
conflicts exposed by the end of the Cold War. The Israeli-Palestinian
conflict is the source of terrorism, not Iraq. In attacking Iraq, you
threaten to ignite anti-Western sentiments throughout the Middle East.

For the Americans, the pursuit of objectives through international agreement
is a secondary consideration to achieving national security. To the
Europeans it has become all-important.

Tony Blair may choose to dismiss these differences as minor when set against
the overarching principles of trans-Atlantic co-operation. Others would say
that the issue of Iraq poses precisely the question of right or wrong that
the Prime Minister said in his press conference yesterday should determine
Britain's stance towards the world.

E. Mr Blair and his ministers can enjoy their holidays - but storm clouds
are gathering
This curious calm cannot last. There are two issues looming in the autumn
and winter that will change everything
by Steve Richards

26 July 2002

The political season ends with the Government more dominant and confident
than it has ever been. Tony Blair performs before journalists at Downing
Street press conferences, or in front of a select committee of MPs, with
good-humoured authority. The Conservatives are in disarray, falling out over
who is up or down in the court of their inexperienced leader. The Liberal
Democrats are nowhere to be seen, making headlines only when their leader is
asked on TV about his drinking habits. Not for a decade have a Prime
Minister and his senior ministers seemed so at ease with power.

Even a year ago, after Labour's second landslide, the Government still
seemed uncertain and insecure. Tony Blair gave the impression that he did
not know what to do with his victory, as if winning for a second time was an
end in itself. In perverse contrast, the Conservatives were animated, almost
as if they had won the election. For a few weeks they seemed to matter
hugely as they went about electing a new leader. Now they are almost
irrelevant again, getting into a state only over weighty matters such as
whether the former party chairman could be contacted at his holiday home in

While they fall out aimlessly, some ministers have learnt the art of
governing. They are no longer dependent on the different art of appearing to
govern. In this second term Mr Blair came to life after 11 September, but
from a domestic perspective the more significant events have been the Budget
and the Comprehensive Spending Review. They gave the Government a sense of
direction and purpose it had previously lacked. Almost imperceptibly, this
has brought about a significant change. Ministers no longer behave like
insecure impostors, awaiting a return to the natural order of things in
which the Conservatives rule and Labour loses elections.

The build-up to Gordon Brown's Comprehensive Spending Review was an example
of the new maturity. There were no headline-grabbing gimmicks, no leaks in
advance that failed to materialise on the day. There was no need. The
genuinely weighty statement was enough in itself.

So Mr Blair and his colleagues head off for their holidays this weekend in a
stronger position, and feeling, with good cause, more self-confident than
ever. And yet this curious calm cannot last. There is no question about
this. There are two issues looming in the autumn and winter that will change
everything, however the Government decides to deal with them.

The first is the possibility of military action against Iraq, the subject of
many portentous questions at yesterday's Downing Street press conference. Mr
Blair faces a dilemma over Iraq that is without an obvious solution. At its
most basic, he does not have the support for military action among Labour
MPs, at least at the moment. The former Cabinet minister, Chris Smith, is an
interesting barometer. Normally ultra-loyal, Mr Smith has spoken out firmly
against a military attack. Recently I asked him whether his public concern
symbolised a wider discontent over the direction of government policy. He
was quite emphatic. It was just Iraq that was alarming normally supportive
MPs. At cabinet level, Clare Short has made her doubts known several times
in public. It is possible she would resign if there was an attack. Those who
know her well say that she is almost visibly preparing herself for such a
traumatic moment. Here is minister committed to most aspects of government
policy and benefiting from a substantial increase in her aid budget. Iraq
could place her on the backbenches, a powerful rebel rather than a minister
crusading against global poverty.

Yet Mr Blair would be severely weakened if he decided against military
action. He has been gripped by the importance of his relationship with Mr
Bush since the presidential election last year. At the time, he told aides,
ministers, and anyone who cared to listen, that he was determined to have as
close a relationship with the Republican President as he managed with Bill
Clinton. To the bewilderment of some, he placed the creation of a "special
relationship" with President Bush at the top of his second-term objectives,
along with public services and Europe. He would be letting down his US
allies and his own instincts if he did not co-operate with a military strike
against Saddam.

A minister who has been involved in internal discussions about Iraq tells me
of a way around this conundrum. He claims that the threat of military action
could be enough in itself to contain Saddam. He even dares to suggest that
it is already starting to work. Perhaps that is what Mr Blair meant when he
told yesterday's Downing Street press conference that "You are getting ahead
of yourselves on Iraq." That was his only substantial comment, implying that
a decision was some way off and that military action is not the only option.
It is unlikely, but not impossible, that the US could decide against
military action on the basis that the threat alone is doing the trick.

For Mr Blair, there is no similar way out on the euro. The issue has been
with us for so long we almost take it for granted: "Here it is again, the
good old euro. In or out? Shake it all about." But we should never
underestimate Europe or the euro's capacity to reshape British politics
entirely. It has done so before and it will do so again. In the early
winter, Mr Blair and Mr Brown will decide whether or not the economic tests
have been met. That decision changes everything. Mr Blair will be
unavoidably weakened if they decide that the tests (including the pivotal
unofficial "sixth test" over whether a referendum is winnable) have not been
met. He has staked much on "ending Britain's ambiguous relationship with

A negative verdict would reinforce the ambiguity and allow Mr Duncan Smith
to claim a victory. A positive verdict would be even more dramatic. The
subsequent referendum (a date has been earmarked in Downing Street for
October next year) would be decisive either way. I cannot see how Mr Blair –
and possibly Mr Brown – could survive a "no" vote in a referendum. A "yes"
vote would have the paradoxical impact of being both an historic triumph for
Mr Blair and the start of the Conservatives' recovery, finally purging the
party of its obsessive Euroscepticism.

At the beginning of the column I wrote that there had not been such a
mid-year calm for a decade. That takes us back to the summer of 1992. On
this very date 10 years ago, John Major held a drinks party for lobby
journalists in the garden of 10 Downing Street. The sun shone, Mr Major
looked more relaxed and in control than ever before, having won an election
a few months earlier. A demoralised Labour party was in disarray. Within
months, Britain was out of the ERM, a distraught Mr Major was battling to
make the Maastricht Treaty become law, and the political map was redrawn.

The current Government is not necessarily facing anything as cataclysmic as
that. But volcanic events are looming. Mr Blair should enjoy the calm while
it lasts.

F. War on Iraq not imminent, says Blair
By George Jones, Political Editor

Daily Telegraph
(Filed: 26/07/2002)

Tony Blair played down the prospect of an early attack on Iraq yesterday but
repeatedly refused to give a commitment to allow the Commons a vote before
British forces were involved in a new Gulf war.

He used his second Downing Street press conference to attempt to calm fears
in the Labour Party that Britain could be drawn into a US-led conflict
before Parliament returns from the long summer recess in October.

Mr Blair said he would not pin himself to any specific form of consultation.
He said: "We are all getting a bit ahead of ourselves on the issue of Iraq.
Action is not imminent, we are not at the point of decision yet.

"There are many issues to be considered before we are at the point of
decision." He did give warning that dealing with weapons of mass destruction
was the next step in the war against terrorism. But Britain and the United
States were not ready to release a promised dossier on Saddam Hussein's
weapons capability.

Mr Blair said it would make a difference if Saddam let weapons inspectors
back into Iraq unconditionally. But he saw no sign of that happening.

Asked how seriously he would take the views of the new Archbishop of
Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams - who has voiced opposition to military action
against Iraq not sanctioned by a fresh UN resolution - Mr Blair indicated
that he would be relatively relaxed.

"He is perfectly entitled to express his views, and why not," he said.

The next prime ministerial press conference will be in Mr Blair's
Sedgefield, Co Durham, constituency, in early September. The
presidential-style press conferences are part of efforts to show that the
Government is being more open and is no longer obsessed with "spin".

Mr Blair has put in an appearance at Parliament almost every day for the
past fortnight.

Yesterday he appeared relaxed and confident, handling questions ranging from
the British class system to the future of Gibraltar, on the first day of a
12-week summer recess.

Mr Blair said the volatility of the stock market would not affect the
Government's decision next year about whether Britain should join Europe's
single currency.

He indicated that the possibility of joining the euro next year remained
under active consideration. "I don't think it makes a difference. What is
important is to recognise the fundamentals are strong," he said.

Mr Blair said he did not think that stock market turbulence affected the
euro case. "You can't judge this on a day-to-day movement of the exchange
rate neither can you judge it on day-to-day movements in the stock market."

Mr Blair's comments followed renewed speculation that the Government is
considering holding a referendum on the euro next year.

The Prime Minister is said to be convinced that large sections of British
public opinion are open to persuasion of the case for the single currency
despite opinion polls showing that a majority are opposed to scrapping the

He refused to be drawn on the timing of a decision on the five economic
tests for Britain joining the euro, beyond promising that it would be
announced by the deadline of next June. However, Mr Blair indicated that it
would be a decisive assessment on whether Britain had met all five tests.

He refused to rule out holding a referendum in May 2003, despite a warning
from the Electoral Commission that it could clash with elections for the
devolved Parliament and Assembly in Scotland and Wales. He said a decision
on timing would be taken later.

Mr Blair rejected suggestions that recent Stock Market falls could threaten
public services investment. "We believe the spending proposals are entirely
affordable," he said.

"Actually the Treasury have done all this on the basis of the most cautious
assumptions, so there is a lot of leeway built into the forecasts we have
made." Earlier, Mr Blair revealed the extent to which he has centralised
power in Downing Street to enable him to intervene in the detailed delivery
of key public services.

He has effectively taken charge of the Government's efforts to tackle street
crime and curb the inflow of asylum seekers into Britain.

Mr Blair used slides to illustrate the work of the No 10 delivery unit in
dealing with failing schools, hospital waiting lists, and robbery and street
crime in London and other metropolitan areas.

The delivery unit operates a four-level system of intensity for dealing with
major policy difficulties, with levels three and four involving a prominent
role for the Prime Minister.

Level three, which involved "substantial commitments" of his own time, had
been activated over the handling of asylum applications.

"Level four comes into action when a problem is serious enough for the
relevant minister and myself to instigate a high intensity drive, led by me
and co-ordinated at the centre. That is the approach we have taken in
relation to street crime," Mr Blair said.

He repeated his pledge to have street crime "under control" by the end of

He said the next few weeks would be critical because many youngsters, who
are mainly responsible for the surge in street crime, would be on school

G. Invasion of Iraq is not imminent, says Blair
By Philip Webster, Political Editor

The Times
26 July

TONY BLAIR went out of his way to dampen expectations of an imminent attack
on Iraq yesterday as it emerged that he has little idea of American
In response to persistent questioning at a Downing Street press conference,
he said that “we are all getting ahead of ourselves on the issue of Iraq.
Action is not imminent. We are not at the point of decision yet.”

At the same time Cabinet sources disclosed that Mr Blair saw little point in
becoming embroiled in a Labour Party row over Iraq when it was not at all
clear what the Americans intended. A source said: “George Bush is not sure
yet what will happen, so let us see what is proposed from them before we get
into trouble here.” Another said: “Blair has not been told what will happen,
so he sees no point in addressing this issue now.”

Mr Blair, who knows that he faces a backbench revolt if he signs up to
military action, was careful not to commit himself to a Commons vote before
conflict starts.

Asked why he has consistently declined to promise such a vote, Mr Blair
said: “Because it’s important that if we do get to that situation that we
follow the precedents there have always been.

“I don’t think there is any point in getting into speculation at this point
in time about the right way to consult the House of Commons.”

Mr Blair said that he was sceptical as to whether the efforts of the UN
Secretary- General Kofi Annan to persuade the Iraqis to readmit weapons
inspectors would succeed. “The omens don’t look very good frankly. The issue
is, is there any point in reviving those negotiations. I don’t know. Because
it seems somewhat unlikely that the Iraqis intend to comply with it.”

Asked how seriously he, as a committed Christian, would take the views of
the new Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams — who has voiced
opposition to military action against Iraq not sanctioned by a fresh UN
resolution — Mr Blair indicated that he would be relatively relaxed about
the comments of the new head of the Anglican Church. Mr Blair said: “He is
perfectly entitled to express his views, and why not.”

During the 80-minute press conference Mr Blair defended British arms sales
to Israel and insisted that the Government had no intention of jeopardising
defence industry jobs.

Asked how he could justify the doubling of arms sales to Jerusalem over the
past two years he said: “I justify it very simply . . . if we want to stop
the defence industry operating in this country, we can do so. The result
incidentally would be that someone else supplies the arms that we supply.

“We have actually tightened the criteria on export control of the sale of
arms, tightened them considerably here and in Europe as well.”

Mr Blair went on: “But there are roughly 100,000 jobs in this country that
depend on defence or associated industries, and I simply don’t agree with
shutting that industry down.”

He dismissed criticisms of the sale to the US of British-made head-up
displays for F16 fighters. The aircraft are to be sold on to Israel.

He said: “Once you start saying that you are not going to supply parts to
the United States . . . once you say you are withdrawing from that on the
basis that these weapons might be sold at some point to Israel or indeed to
any other country, I’m afraid the practical reality is . . . what would
actually happen is not that the parts wouldn’t be supplied, but that you
would find every other defence industry in the world rushing in to take the
place that we had vacated.”

He said that Britain would do everything that it could to help people
affected by the famine in southern Africa. “We will do all we can to work
with the governments there, in so far as we can co-operate with the
governments there.

“And we will also try and urge the same type of action both in Europe and
elsewhere, with other major countries in the world.

“But this is a very very serious situation. And it is truly a tragedy, at a
time when there are actually some signs of hope in Africa, over Angola, over
the Sudan, over the agreement that has just been brokered in the Democratic
Republic of Congo, it is a genuine tragedy that this natural disaster has
been visited upon people in southern Africa.”

The Prime Minister also said that Ken Livingstone’s attempt to rejoin the
Labour Party had been rejected because he was not trusted to abide by the
party’s rules.

The Prime Minister will stage the next of his presidential-style press
conferences in Sedgefield in September. He is travelling to Johannesburg for
the world summit on sustainable development in September and on his return
will meet the press in his constituency.


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