KWAME HOLMAN: British Prime Minister Tony Blair today called on the House of Commons to reaffirm its support for U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, warning Iraq to disarm immediately or face the consequences.
TONY BLAIR: Unless the United Nations carries through what it agreed last November, then it is the authority of the U.N. itself that is going to be undermined.
KWAME HOLMAN: Blair raised the issue even though dozens of members from his own ruling Labor Party oppose war at this time. It is the most serious political challenge Blair has faced during his six years as Labor Party leader.
GEORGE GALLOWAY, Labor Party: The vast majority of people in Great Britain are against the war. We know that to be true. We're asking the parliament to reflect it.
KWAME HOLMAN: The opposition came in the form of an amendment, arguing the case for military action against Iraq is yet unproven. A vote was scheduled at the end of a day. Ironically it was Ian Duncan Smith, leader of the opposition conservatives, who stood first to support Blair, asking a series of leading questions about the need for the new U.N. resolution proposed by Britain and the United States.
IAN DUNCAN SMITH, Leader, Conservative Party: Does the prime minister agree with me that any country that supported Resolution 1441 should support the second resolution that naturally flows from it?
TONY BLAIR: Mr. Speaker, yes, I certainly do agree with that.
IAN DUNCAN SMITH: The prime minister recently said as a result of that the prime minister recently said that he would only support action without a second resolution if there was-and I quote-- an unreasonable veto in the Security Council. Given his answer to my first question, isn't the logic of his position now that any veto would be unreasonable?
TONY BLAIR: It certainly would be an unreasonable veto if Iraq is in material breach and we do not pass a resolution because 1441 made it absolutely clear that Iraq had a final opportunity to comply. If it isn't complying, then it is in breach and therefore that is why I believe a second resolution should issue and it's also why I believe that in the end it will issue.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Charles Kennedy, leader of the liberal democrats, asked if the prime minister still was willing to listen to U.N. weapons inspectors.
CHARLES KENNEDY, Leader, Liberal Democrat Party: Would the prime minister acknowledge that unless the United Nations weapons inspectors were to conclude that the inspection process itself had failed, it would be quite wrong for this country to participate in a preemptive action, military action against Iraq?
TONY BLAIR: I would put it in this way, that it is for the inspectors to give us evidence as to the fact they find, but what is crucial-- because this is what the Security Council has laid down-- is that there is full and complete and unconditional and immediate compliance by Saddam.
CHARLES KENNEDY: If the prime minister is not prepared to rule out precipitant military action against Iraq, isn't the greater consequence and danger of that that the international coalition against terrorism upon which he and everybody else lays such rightful importance would itself be shattered?
TONY BLAIR: No one surely could accuse us of taking precipitous action when we have been 12 years trying to get Saddam to give up his weapons of mass destruction. Six months since Pres. Bush addressed the U.N., four months since the U.N. resolution, and still he is not in compliance.
KWAME HOLMAN: Blair left the chamber after an hour, but the debate continued for six hours more. Conservative member Kenneth Clark was arguing against the war when a colleague interrupted him with a question.
SPOKESMAN: How much more time should Saddam Hussein be given?
KENNETH CLARKE, Conservative Party: He should be given... we should take as much time as is necessary to achieve disarmament. And we should resort to warfare once it is plain that all other methods are exhausted. We've had 12 years during which for two or three of them, people have done nothing at all. We've had 11 weeks of the present policy, and I think we have to judge whether a few weeks more are required.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, Labor member Oona King disagreed.
OONA KING: So do we give him more time? Five years after I pleaded for that course of action, I recognize its futility. Whilst the U.N. inspectors should be supported in their mission, it's clear that Saddam Hussein is not cooperating. He continues to play games, he declares this week that he'll never destroy his al-Samoud missiles so that next week or the week after he can do just that and claim compliance.
KWAME HOLMAN: Conservative John Gummer stressed that rushing to take military action would be a mistake.
JOHN GUMMER: I want to suggest, Madam Deputy Speaker, that one of the problems that really besets us is the fact that some people mistake impatience for necessity. Of course, we are impatient to get rid of this horrific man, to destroy this regime, which has destroyed so many others, to rid the world of a despicable dictator, but we do ourselves wrong if we do not choose the moment when the case for war has been made to those who afterwards must make us able to make the peace.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, Labor's Bruce George urged colleagues to trust the leadership of Tony Blair.
BRUCE GEORGE, Labor Party: If you look at the prime minister's record so far, he had a lot of opposition on all sides of the house to the UK intervening in Sierra Leone. He was right. A lot of opposition on all sides of the house in Macedonia. He was right. In Kosovo, even more opposition, he was right. On Afghanistan, he was right, and therefore I am prepared to give his judgment a further degree of endorsement because I have seen no reason why his perspective should be trashed as many people have, in fact, suggested.
KWAME HOLMAN: Precisely at 7:00 P.M. London Time, the House of Commons debate on Iraq ended and ministers left the chamber to vote.
SPOKESMAN: Lock the doors.
KWAME HOLMAN: The amendment arguing the case for military action against Iraq remained unproven was defeated.
SPOKESMAN: The ayes to the right, 199. The no's to the left 393.
KWAME HOLMAN: But the 1999 votes in favor of the amendment was more than many had expected. 122 came from within Blair's own Labor Party. Prime Minister Blair has vowed at least one more vote in the chamber before any British forces are sent into battle.