Mark Thomas is amazed by 122 spines

Blair's hope is that once the second resolution is secured, Britain will relax, get a cup of tea and

Times of international crisis are by their very nature weird, but nothing has prepared me for just how weird things are getting this time. Who among us ever thought that we might say the words: "That Jacques Chirac - he's all right, isn't he?" Who thought they would see 122 Labour MPs voting against the Prime Minister on a three-line whip? Most Labour MPs think they are James Dean if they leave their pager off for an hour.

Frankly, I am amazed that there are 122 spines in the Parliamentary Labour Party - maybe they had to share or hire them for the day.

Then the Turkish parliament voted against the US using their country as a military base for action against Iraq. When the Turkish parliament is more democratically accountable to its people than the British parliament, we really do have to conclude that things are odd.

The MPs' rebellion is dwarfed by the 80 per cent of the public who are against George Bush's war, more than a million of whom marched in central London. For Tony Blair, the scale of public opposition to the war must seem almost biblical and, given the bizarre twists of recent events, I for one would not be that shocked if parliament were beset by a plague of locusts and the River Thames turned red.

What Blair is counting on is that second UN resolution. Crucially, it is Middle England and Labour Party members, the very alliance that got Blair elected, who need to be convinced that invading Iraq has the legitimacy of the UN and is not just US adventurism.

Blair's hope is that once the second resolution has been secured, Britain will relax about the war, get a cup of tea and a Hobnob and enjoy the live coverage of the bombing from the comfort of their Parker Knoll recliner.

Listening to him, you might be led to believe that the second resolution answers the legal and moral quandary that lies at the heart of the UN Charter: when can a state or states invade another country?

However, a legal opinion published days ago by Rabinder Singh QC and Charlotte Kilroy shows that the Bush/Blair proposal for this second resolution is nothing but another entry into the pro-war catalogue of lies and deceptions.

Singh and Kilroy's opinion states: "The draft resolution would not authorise the US and the UK to use force against Iraq if it were adopted." They point out that nowhere in the Bush/Blair draft is the explicit use of force mentioned, let alone put forward for approval by the Security Council. In fact, the legal phrases used to signify military action are missing from the Bush/Blair draft. In previous resolutions, the phrases "all necessary means" and "severest consequences" are taken to mean military action. They are not present.

Singh and Kilroy conclude that "if there is not a further resolution clearly authorising force, the US and the UK would be acting in violation of international law if they were to attack Iraq". Some might try to dismiss this as just an opinion. However, Singh is a well-respected, government-approved QC working out of Matrix Chambers, Cherie Blair's law firm, hardly noted for its Trotskyite Molotov-wielding tendencies.

It might seem like a lot of effort to go to, to get a bit of paper that has all the validity of the bit of paper that Chamberlain waved about in the 1930s, but Blair and Bush have left this draft resolution vague for a purpose. If the resolution has no mention of military action, then no one on the Security Council should have a problem signing it. So countries such as Angola can sign it in good faith knowing it is not a clear mandate for war. However, once Blair and Bush have the signatures they will say they have a unified mandate and promptly go to war, telling the public to put the kettle on and relax.

Out of all of this comes the one simple question to ask Blair and the pro-war pack: if your cause is so just, why so much deception and why so many lies?

Fourteen B-52s to be based at RAF Fairford arrived a week ago. In the Gulf war, 60-odd US missions were flown from Fairford. It is a disconcerting image that, at the start of this new century, such instruments of barbarism will be flown out of Gloucestershire, amid the leafy, listed buildings.

Lindis Percy was the first peace activist to greet the planes: on the day of their arrival she spent four hours on the base, with an upside-down Stars and Stripes and the legend "The world's rogues - GWB and friends", before she was detected. US soldiers who have no authority over UK citizens illegally handcuffed her.

But I guess that pointing guns at the head of a midwife, grandmother and Quaker is part of what makes that US/UK relationship so special.

For the crime of hanging her flag on the aircraft, Lindis Percy has been charged with criminal damage to a B-52 bomber.

This article first appeared in the 10 March 2003 issue of the New Statesman, America is no longer invincible