Robin Cook, the first UK cabinet minister to resign over the government's decision to proceed with war on Iraq without UN backing, on 17 March delivered a powerful resignation speech that drew an unprecedented standing ovation from Parliament. Cook, a former foreign secretary who was leader of the House of Commons until his decision to go, criticised Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President Bush for their apparent rush towards war. 'Why is it now so urgent that we should take military action to disarm a military capacity that has been there for 20 years and which we helped to create?' he asked. This haste was damaging international institutions and alliances, Cook warned. 'Tonight, the international partnerships most important to us are weakened. The European Union is divided. The Security Council is in stalemate. These are heavy casualties of a war in which a shot is yet to be fired.' Bush came in for personal criticism for his handling of the Iraq crisis. 'What has come to trouble me most over part weeks is the suspicion that if the hanging chads in Florida had gone the other way and Al Gore had been elected, we would not now be about to commit British troops.' Cook also attacked the double standard that the US was applying to Iraq and regional ally Israel. 'It is over 30 years since resolution 242 called on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories,' he said.
On 18 March, a second UK minister, junior health minister Lord Hunt of King's Heath, announced his resignation over Iraq. 'I have decided to resign from the government because I don't support the pre-emptive action, which is going to be taken without broad international support or indeed the clear support of the British people,' he said in a radio interview. Later in the day, home office minister John Denham also quit. The first cabinet minister to threaten resignation, International Development Secretary Clare Short, has decided to stay in her post. Parliament will conduct an emergency debate on military action against Iraq on the afternoon of 18 March.