February 11, 2003
By George Jones and Benedict Brogan
Trade union leaders warned Tony Blair yesterday that the Government could face widespread industrial action if Britain joined an American-led war against Iraq.
Rail workers might refuse to transport military materials if Britain took part in an invasion without the backing of the United Nations.
Five union general secretaries attended a Stop The War Coalition press conference at Westminster to press for a special meeting of the Trades Union Congress to debate the Iraq crisis.
Paul Mackney, of Natfhe, the lecturers' union, said there would be protests in every industry if the Prime Minister went to war against the country's wishes.
Bob Crow, leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union, compared the anti-war movement to the revolution that brought down Nicolae Ceausescu, the Romanian dictator.
Mick Rix, general secretary of Aslef, the rail union, said some railway workers were already refusing to move materials that could be used in a conflict.
The union leaders said the TUC constitution provided for a recall in the face of conflict and it should be enacted to help prevent military action against Iraq. All insisted they represented a majority of people opposed to war.
They urged their 750,000-strong membership to turn out in support of the anti-war demonstrations planned for this weekend.
Billy Hayes, leader of the Communication Workers' Union, said anti-war sentiment was comparable with that at the time of the Suez crisis, which cost Anthony Eden his premiership.
The tensions within the Labour Party over Iraq erupted in the Commons later when Tam Dalyell, the longest-serving MP, walked out after staging a protest over the Government's "plagiarised" dossier on Saddam Hussein.
The Labour MP, Father of the Commons, raised a series of points of order over the dossier on Iraq's concealment of its weapons, which was partly copied from a student's PhD thesis.
He accused ministers of deception by using out-of-date information from "teenage scribblers" and presenting it as the latest British intelligence information.
Mr Dalyell, 70, MP for Linlithgow, said it was not a "trivial" matter because such a document was used as a basis for sending young men and women to war and risking the lives of thousands of innocent civilians.
The Speaker turned down his demand for an emergency debate and told Mr Dalyell to withdraw from the Chamber after he continued to protest.
Mr Dalyell walked out, although the Speaker's officer later denied that he had been suspended. The MP said that he was the first Father of the House to be asked to leave the Chamber - although he was suspended from the Commons 20 years ago for accusing Margaret Thatcher of "lying" to the Commons over the sinking of the Belgrano during the Falklands war.
The Tories criticised Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, for his opposition to the use of force against Iraq.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative leader, accused Mr Kennedy of searching for "cheap votes".
Asked about Mr Kennedy's pledge to attend the Stop the War rally in London on Saturday, Mr Duncan Smith said it was comparable to Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Germany.
"What the Lib Dems do is mess around on the edge of politics in search of cheap votes," Mr Duncan Smith said in Gouda, Holland.