by RAY FLEMING

Will the House of Commons have the opportunity to vote on British involvement in military action against Iraq? Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said more than once that he believes such a debate is desirable, provided it would not put at risk British forces in the war region. It is likely that the Security Council's debate on the UK/US/Spanish second resolution, with its deadline of March 17, will take place next Tuesday or Wednesday. Whichever way the vote goes, Britain will have to decide whether to commit its forces to war – with UN authority if the resolution is passed, without UN authority if it is defeated. ince any military action is unlikely to begin on March 18, there would be time for a Commons debate and vote at the end of next week or early in the following one. If the second resolution has been successful – an unlikely outcome – the Prime Minister would be able to face the House cloaked in the UN flag. If, however, it was the Stars and Stripes instead he would face a hostile assembly of Labour MPs and the possibility of a revolt on a larger scale than that ten days ago. One or two ministerial resignations would be possible – Clare Short's for instance – and there could be defectors among the 100 MPs filling all kinds of junior and dogsbody posts in the government who normally vote automatically with the government. Mr Blair will not want this debate, nor, understandably, will Britain's military commanders, but he will find it difficult to avoid it.

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