Statement on Iraq at Conservative Spring Conference
I thought I would take the opportunity today because as Theresa said so earlier we face momentous events perhaps unfolding over the next few weeks.
None of us know quite where these may lead, we of course hope for the best, we plan for the best, but we can never be certain. I think it is important not just for the country, but also, my party faces some decisions and some choices. In a sense for all of us, if not at least for myself this is a sort of moral journey.
Saddam Hussain has been a tyrant and a monster to his own people and to almost any people he can conceivably get his hands on. Over the last few decades he has taken a country, one of the wealthiest and most profitable countries in the world and turned it into a supplicant state requiring aid for almost anybody who can give it.
People who were once well off are now poor, and starving children who use to be born in decent hospitals often die because they can't get the right medical treatment, this is Iraq today. A pious state, rendered so by one man, SH and his henchmen in support.
But we do here face choices as a party; we need to understand why it is, that it is necessary now to face down this man at this moment. Now, not another time, not to be put off, not to wait, but right now. Many of you I know said why now? Some have said to me, surely we don't have to be in support of this operation? Let me just tell the three key reasons why it is necessary now.
First, let us deal with the man himself. This is the man who remember made war on his neighbors, in Iran where millions died. He has invaded Kuwait, he has sent missiles at SA, he has sent missiles at Israel, and perhaps even worst of all, he has gassed his own people, and he has tortured them.
In the last few weeks I have met two groups of people. Two groups of people that have moved me greatly, one was some Iraqi dissident who sat in a room with me and sat and talked with me about their hopes for the future of their country. They talked about what they had fled from. One man said rather movingly that he could remember his brother, for that was all he had this memories. His brother was taken 18-years ago as a student late one night from their rooms on some petit criminal charge, and was never seen again. Could you imagine that?
Anyone of you in the dead of night losing your brother or sister perhaps just disappears gone just taken away and never seen again. He fled with his family for fear the others would go too. That is happening to so many people in Iraq to day and over the last couple of decades. Another group I met when I had the privilege of going to Kuwait to visit our wonderful troops, and how we think of them now at this time. But while I was there I met a group of Kuwaiti's, these K were the families of those who had been taken by the Iraqi's of prisoners of war, during the Iraqi invasion of K. There are 600 missing Kuwait prisoners of war missing, 600 missing since that conflict, all the others that made it back, these never came back. At the end of the Gulf War, among many of the other things he was told to do, he was told to hand back those prisoners of war, he was told if he could not, then to show what had happened to them and at least to give those families time to mourn properly.
He has done none of that he has refused to allow any of them or any inspectors into the prisons, to find out what happened, no paper work, no record, nothing. Imagine that 600 people. Somebody said to me rather dismissively well its only 600 what does that matter, only 600, well 600 is bad enough, but lets put that in perspective, as a percentage of the UK population it would be the same as if 60,000 British people had gone missing as a result of torture and criminal behaviour. 60000 people, that is the scale of this mans crime and he should not be allowed to forget it.
So we know that the man himself is a monster and will remain a monster destroying the future and hopes of many within and without his country. But that's not the real reason, the question is whether or not he has the means. Well at the Gulf war I remember quite clearly as it started many people saying, you knew all about his long range missiles he doesn't have any, he has no missiles that could reach parts of SA well we found to our cost that he did. With his regular missile attacks during the Gulf War, many of the so-called military experts had to change their opinions, they just didn't know, they had made assumptions that were wrong.
When we arrived and took over and won he had a peace treaty with the allies, with all the threats of the chemical and biological weapons he may have used part of that deal was he would hand over those weapons, he would rid himself of those weapons, biological, chemical, and nuclear. That he would assure he would never build any of again, and rid himself of those programs. And having made that promise, he simply broke that promise everyday of every month, and every year and right the way through. We had inspectors in the country and for the first few years, they searched in vain a game of hide and seek took place where they were unable in a country larger than France to find where he hid them. Until his son-in-law broke ranks and confessed to their possession. And they discovered the tons of nerve agent and gas the chemical precarious, the thing that go to make these weapons, which he had denied having every occasion as they search for more and try to destroy them he in frustration kicked the inspectors out in the late 1990's and it was four or so months ago that they were able to return.
Low and behold when they returned there are no weapons left he's got rid of them they are gone. He can't explain how he has no paper work, he won't let the scientists be interviewed, they have to have inspectors with them, and tape recorders or they have their minders. And so they cannot find out what happened to them or if ever they have been destroyed. He has them, and he will not give them up, and his nuclear programs that are hidden and disguised they still go on. And the fact is he has the means and he intends to keep it and he playing for time to make sure that he come some how, as he has dome for years and years and years confound the international community and confound the UN. This is what he possesses, and these are not just weapons, his are biological nerve agents, that can destroy whole cities, ruin populations, distort births and make life intolerable for millions around the global if they got into the hands of terrorist groups with which he is connected. And believe you me he intends to be connected, which leaves us with the third part.
Does he have a motive? Why many say, surely we in Britain are not under threat, it doesn't matter, it somebody else let us leave them as they are, I know its bad, but we mustn't worry about it for to use an old phrase, 'This is a far and distant country and about which we know little'. Never again, never ever again can we allow ourselves to use those words as this is not a far and distance country. This world is too small for us to turn our backs on people who many suffer or people who may cause that suffering, and we as a party must be there and standing tall when that is right, and if anybody thinks the British people themselves and this country or even the Americans are not under threat… I tell you this we fought the Gulf War against him, we have been patrolling no-fly zone and our forces have been in action almost constantly since the late 90's against military targets. He rails against us on a daily basis, please do not pretend we are not a potential target for I believe we are and if anybody thinks otherwise, I am sorry but I think your living in cloud cuckoo-land.
We are a legitimate target and will become one. And I know for all of us it is difficult because that brings us to the biggest single dilemma. Everyone one of us in this hall every conservative I know and a growing number of people who are not conservatives, but are decent people who are trying to get on with their lives believe that this government has failed them and is failing them.
The PM seems unable if not incapable of recognizing their genuine domestic problems, their problems with their health care, the mess the asylum system, the rising violent street crime all of things they worry about, yes we are on their side and we are just as angry and worried. But when the PM does something that is right, when he does something that I believe will benefit the British people and help bring peace to this part of the region, then I believe not with standing our other concerns, it is in the British interest for us to support him if he does what is right for Britain. That is why I have taken the course that I have it is not giving him a blank cheque, it is not saying do as you will, it is saying do the right thing and if you do the right thing, then we will do the right thing by you, and give you that support.
No blank cheques, we have been critical and will be continue to be critical of the governments failure to bring forward the case to persuade the British people of the rightness of our course and of the need to take action if necessary. The stumbling sometimes faulting way in which Michael has picked out their efforts have been part of that problem and there is a bigger problem too. You see for 5 or 6 years, this government has lived by spin and by something for tomorrows headlines, and by the twists and the turns that have slowly rendered the British people speechless at their antics and now at the time when they need to have that integrity that honesty and that sense from the British public that they can be trusted they have lost it they have dissipated it.
That it is why it is so difficult for them to make that case, but that does not mean we should not still see the rightness of that case and that cause, and stand by it, and there will be no blank cheques, for we will criticize them for that. But will also ask questions, about what happens next if we do go into action, what kind of settlement are we after? For it is important that we know that we understand of the peaceful arrangements for the Iraqi people as a whole they most also be maintained and planned, and perhaps most of all as we saw yesterday we also need to know and most ask and demand that the middle east question is settled once and for all, for we know that lies at the root of so much of the problem that we face in this area. That is why I so unashamedly said that when the President announced an opportunity to show the road map towards peace and security in the middle east, giving the Palestine's some hope and the Israeli's great hope and security the same time then we will back that, that is what we all want and that is a route to a peaceful solution in this area, that is right and just.
And so I say to all of us, as Conservatives all of you here and beyond, all of the country, those who are undecided and unhappy this is not an easy decision this is not something which anyone took after a short discussion. For me it has been a long journey, for many perhaps not so long, but certainly as complicated and difficult. But I think the lesson is clear, we as a party above all else love our country, we believe in it and we believe in the people that live here are amongst the decent, most determined and most tolerate I know. They are worth supporting they are worth backing and most of all they are worth protecting. As a party we have made it our rule to do so, and we should not fail them now, we must put their interests ahead of any party political interest at this moment.
If people want to play political game with this, I say I am sorry I will not do it; I say their interests matter more than the short-term interest of any single political party. For this party is about the British people, or we are nothing and I will not lead us in the wrong direction.
And so I say to all of you in this difficult time with our hopes and our fears and thoughts with our forces in Kuwait and their families, I say to all of you this is a moment for our party to do the right thing. The right thing is to put the British people first and the peace and security of the world along side. If we can do that if we can stand there and be identified, not like others, not like other parties who have twisted and turned and chased each running tide of public opinion.
If we can stand tall and show that we mean to behave in opposition as we would if we were in government, for it would be right in government and it is right now and simply ask all of you to join me, to be with me, and to support me and my shadow cabinet as we take this difficult decision and stand behind the government as it does the right thing. If it does the right thing, right the way through to see this to its logical end.