This is the transcript of the speech that the former leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kennedy (who died today aged 55) gave to a huge anti-war rally in London on February 15, 2003.
Kennedy was the only major political party leader to oppose the war and he did so on the basis that the case for war had not been made and the United Nations, Parliament and public opinion had been bypassed. He also warned about the dangers of “what would happen next” if Iraq were invaded.
But despite his exhortations Tony Blair’s regime joined an American-led coalition which invaded Iraq in March 2003. Twelve years later around a million Iraqis lay dead – the result of the invasion itself and the civil war and chaos it spawned.
Charles Kennedy speech to the Stop the War rally in February 2003
I am delighted to address you at this historic rally today. It is vital that people’s voices are heard. And it is even more crucial that the Prime Minister and the President listen.
For months now I have been putting to Tony Blair, on the floor of the House of Commons, the questions to which the people of Britain are entitled to have answers.
The Liberal Democrats have argued consistently for four pre-conditions before military action is contemplated:
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1. The United Nations has the moral authority and the political mandate here.
2. United Nations decisions have to be based on adequate information – which means full compliance with the weapons inspectors.
Yesterday’s report from Hans Blix made it quite clear that the inspectors have further useful work to do. There is no moral justification on this basis for a resort to force now.
3. The British House of Commons must have the right to vote on any actions taken. Next week, the House of Lords is sitting and the House of Commons is not. It would be quite wrong if there was a statement to the unelected House and no statement to the elected one. Parliament should be recalled so that the Prime Minister can make a statement and so that there can be a full debate at this critical moment.
4. All other options must be exhausted before there is any recourse to force.
I join with you today because I have yet to be persuaded as to the case for war against Iraq.
The information has been inconclusive and misleading. The arguments have been inconsistent and contradictory. The real aims – what would follow a war – have never been properly explained.
No wonder people are suspicious and scared.
I say this as someone who is not personally a pacifist – although I respect sincerely pacifist beliefs. As someone who is not anti-American – but is deeply worried by the Bush administration. And as someone who has no illusions about Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship and appalling regime.
But I return to the United Nations.
If great powers ignore it, then great damage will be done to world order and the best hope of international justice. Without a second UN resolution, there is no way that the Liberal Democrats could or should support war.
International justice must include a serious restarting of the Middle East peace process. The absence of that can only fuel extremism and international terrorism.
This is the riskiest moment for Britain since Suez. Our country has a principled and responsible role to play on the world stage. But to do so we have to pursue international justice through the United Nations. And the Government has to take the people with them.
This is my message to you all today.