Warning to Blair that 100 Labour MPs could rebel against war plan


BRITAIN: Mr Tony Blair has been warned that as many as 100 Labour MPs might stage an anti-war rebellion at the end of next Tuesday's emergency sitting of the House of Commons.

At the same time, in a surprise move, the Conservatives seem set to highlight Labour's internal divisions over Iraq by abstaining unless the government tables a substantive motion on the question of action to be taken against the Iraqi regime.

Meanwhile, an opinion poll published today shows public opinion in Britain has swung away from opposition to a military attack on Iraq, with 40 per cent opposed to a possible war and 36 in favour.

Three weeks ago a similar Guardian/ICM poll asking the same question showed 50 per cent opposed to a military attack on Baghdad and 33 per cent in favour. The rise of the don't-knows from 17 per cent to 24 per cent shows that growing numbers are no longer sure that they disapprove of the idea.

The Blair government's present intention is that almost 12 hours of debate on the growing international crisis should conclude with a technical motion on the adjournment of the House.

However, the Conservative leader, Mr Iain Duncan Smith, has indicated he will advise his MPs to abstain in that event because an adjournment motion would be a "token gesture" inappropriate to the importance of the issues under debate.

At the same time a Labour MP, Ms Alice Mahon, predicted that up to 100 Labour backbenchers could force a division and register a "powerful" anti-war message to the government. Already an estimated 161 MPs have signed the Commons motion tabled by Miss Mahon expressing their "deep unease" at the prospect of British backing for an American-led assault on President Saddam Hussein.

However, these parliamentary manoeuvres were playing out against the backdrop of a rapidly improving international response to President Bush's willingness to act, at Mr Blair's urging, through the UN Security Council.

As Mr Blair continued his campaign of persuasion at Westminster - briefing the chairmen of the key Commons Defence and Foreign Affairs Committees - Downing Street welcomed indications from Saudi Arabia that its bases would be open to US forces acting against Iraq with the approval of the UN.

That development prompted the Liberal Democrats spokesman, Mr Menzies Campbell, to observe a clear change in the rules of the developing international game.

While Saddam Hussein could still avoid conflict by allowing unimpeded access to UN weapons inspectors, Mr Campbell said: "It must surely be clear to him now that his options are swiftly running out."

In a further boost for No 10, the Chancellor, Mr Gordon Brown, again threw his weight behind Mr Blair for the second time in four days, so defying suggestions that he ranked among cabinet "doves" on the Iraqi issue and feared the impact of war on the British and world economies.

With Mr Blair reportedly ready to flush out doubters at next Monday's cabinet meeting, Mr Brown declared: "The world cannot stand by as someone either develops nuclear, chemical and biological weapons or, in particular, flouts the international community and the laws and regulations that have been made by the international community over a period of ten years." - (Additional reporting Guardian Service)

Two new polls show that President Bush has rallied public support for a possible attack on Iraq, Conor O'Clery reports from New York. Two-thirds of Americans support using military force against Iraq, according to polls released by Newsweek and by ABC News for the This Week programme. His overall job approval was at 70 per cent in the Newsweek survey, up from 61 per cent in late August.

However, in the Newsweek poll, two thirds said it was important that the president have the approval of Congress, formal support from the UN and backing from most of the European allies.