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Libya

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 16th April 1986.

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Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield 5:45 pm, 16th April 1986

To have lost Trident would have been a great gain.

If there are lessons to be learnt, let us learn them once and for all. First, there will never be peace in the middle east until the Palestinians have their own state. I say that as a lifelong friend of Israel—someone who wants to see Israel prosper. The Israeli Government have, in some ways, betrayed their people by allowing that state to be an instrument of American imperial policy in the middle east.

Secondly, Britain is entitled to self-determination. We are entitled to decide whether we want to be taken into war through the use of bases in our country. Yet we are not so entitled. Does anyone honestly believe that the Prime Minister would be consulted if radar screens showed something coming from Fylingdales? Does anyone believe that Reagan would contact the Prime Minister—who might be having a bath—with only a four-minute notice period, to obtain her consent to fire missiles? Of course not. Technology itself makes it impossible to consult. In all fairness, the United States has a democratic tradition that we never quite won. The President cannot go to war without the consent of Congress. And here is the right hon. Member for Chelmsford telling us that we have no right even to consider whether we should have a view, although it is our own people who would be affected.

We must now consider very carefully whether we should not close down all the American bases in Britain. It is the policy of the Labour party—and I am very glad that it is and it was a long struggle to get it—to close the nuclear bases.

This action by Reagan was very foolish because he lost more friends and influence by what he did on Monday than he could ever make up for with all his hardware. For we learn that it was the use of conventional forces from British bases that posed the threat with which we now have to live.

I believe most profoundly that the time has come when Britain should realign its foreign policy, not to neutrality on all sides, but to push our influence to end the conflicts between East and West and try to redirect the resources available to our generation to meet the needs of the Third world, instead of building up the nuclear madness, which may very well end with an incident no different from Monday's bombing of Libya and trigger accidentally the destruction of humanity itself.