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Former minister fights missile plan

13 August 2001

By Tom Baldwin, Depity Political Edwito, The Times.

Peter Kilfoyle, the former Defence Minister, has urged unions to "reassert their rights" at the Labour conference by uniting in opposition to US missile defence plans.

His call underlines the deepening anger within the party over Tony Blair's supportive attitude towards the Bush Administration. Labour strategists are known to be worried that the leadership could suffer a humiliating defeat at next month's party conference if President Bush's proposal to build a nuclear shield to protect America is debated.

Mr Kilfoyle's intervention will be seen as particularly significant because he was involved in early talks over the US project before quitting the Government last year in protest at Labour's failure sufficiently to heed its grass roots. He has written to 18 trade union leaders urging them to agree on a single resolution opposing co-operation with the missile defence plan and to resist any pressure from the leadership to back down.

"If we cannot express our views at conference we might as well pack up and go home. There is a lot of debate about on what issue the conference should reassert their rights over the leadership, but I believe this is the one," he added.

Mr Kilfoyle suggested it would be seen in the context of wider concerns over the Republican Administration including President Bush's refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. Any party conference defeat for Mr Blair on missile defence would be a severe embarrassment, as well as reviving memories of battles in the 1980s over the stationing of US cruise missiles.

In private, ministers believe that President Bush will press ahead with the missile shield regardless so that there would be little point in endangering Britain's special relationship with the US by criticising the proposal.

There have been hints that ministers are willing to allow America to use the Fylingdales early warning station and the US base at Menwith Hill, both in North Yorkshire, for the project. Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary, wrote to Labour MPs last week to explain the US policy, arguing that it was designed to prevent missile attack from "oppressive regimes" and terrorist groups.

"This is not Star Wars," he added, referring to a 1980s US project. "We have a much more limited objective to deploy effective defences against limited missile attack."

More than 200 Labour MPs have backed a Commons motion opposing the plan. A letter signed by the leaders of the TGWU, the GMB and Unison said that the US scheme would do "immense damage to treaties covering weapons of mass destruction".

The Times, Britain. Copyright 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd.

Forwarded from GNAWNPS

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