MP resigns over Afgan

John A Silkstone

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Gordon Brown suffers shock Government resignation over Afghanistan

Gordon Brown has suffered a shock Government resignation when Eric Joyce, an aide to the Defence Secretary, walked out in protest at the way the Prime Minister was handling the war in Afghanistan.

Mr Ainsworth has said that the picture painted by Mr Joyce was not one he 'recognised'.
It came as Mr Brown prepared for a major speech today in which he will re-state Britain’s mission in Afghanistan against a backdrop of growing public disillusionment with the conflict.

Mr Joyce, a former army major who was parliamentary private secretary to Bob Ainsworth, the Defence Secretary, used his resignation letter to direct a series of damning accusations against the Prime Minister.

Mr Joyce said: “I do not think the public will accept for much longer that our losses can be justified by simply referring to the risk of greater terrorism on our streets. Nor do I think we can continue with the present level of uncertainty about the future of our deployment in Afghanistan.”

He also attacked the way some senior service chiefs have been targeted by Labour ministers. Gen Sir Richard Dannatt was the victim of Labour smears just before he stood down from his role as head of the Army.

Mr Joyce said: “Behind the hand attacks by any Labour figure on senior service personnel are now, to the public, indistinguishable from attacks on the services themselves.

“We must make it clear to every serviceman and woman, their families and the British public, that we give their well-being the highest political priority.”

He added that Labour would lose the election if it did not look as if the party cared about defence and got a “grip” on the issue.

He said: “Labour must remember that service folk and their families are our people and we must at literally all costs continue to show by our actions that we mean it.”

Mr Joyce warned that Mr Brown needed to fix the problem with “greatest urgency.”

The timing of his resignation infuriated Downing Street coming on the eve of Mr Brown’s speech on Afghanistan. One source said Mr Joyce had done nothing to raise his concerns in recent days or weeks with the Prime Minister.

Mr Ainsworth has said that the picture painted by Mr Joyce was not one he “recognised.”

There has been a surge in British fatalities in Helmand province in recent weeks. Yesterday, two soldiers were killed in the region bringing the total British dead since hostilities began to 212.

A Daily Telegraph poll last week found that two out of three people were now against the conflict.

The increase in casualties has led to fierce criticism from opposition MPs that British troops are not getting the right level of support.

Mr Joyce, the MP for Falkirk and a former major in the Black Watch, has been fiercely loyal to the Government during his nine years at Westminster. But he recently attacked the government's appeal against compensation awards for two injured servicemen.

He told the Daily Telegraph that the MoD's legal action was "profoundly wrong" and "politically bonkers". It was a sign of the weakness of Mr Ainsworth and Mr Brown that Mr Joyce was not disciplined or sacked for his comments.

In his long resignation letter that was handed to Number 10 last night, Mr Joyce warned that Mr Brown had to start thinking about an Afghanistan exit strategy.

He told the Prime Minister: “We also need to make it clear that our commitment in Afghanistan is high but time limited. It should be possible now to say that we will move off our present war-footing and reduce our forces there substantially during our next term in government.”

The uncertainty over the legality of the recent presidential elections in Afghanistan also troubles Mr Joyce.

Last night Peter Kilfoyle, the former Labour minister, backed Mr Joyce’s move.

He told the BBC: “This reflects the growing concern both here and in the US about why we are still in Afghanistan and with the changing objectives. It is never quite clear what we hope to achieve there.”

Mr Joyce also said that there should be a greater “geopolitical return from the United States for our efforts” adding “for many, Britain fights; Germany pays, France calculates; Italy avoids.”
 
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