POLITICS
06/09/2013 16:05 BST | Updated 06/09/2013 17:51 BST

Tony Blair Was 'Wrong' And Ed Miliband Was 'Right' On Syria, Says John Prescott

PA
Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Deputy Leader John Prescott watch Gordon Brown address Labour members at the special Labour leadership conference in Bridgewater Hall, Manchester.

Former deputy prime minister John Prescott has lept to the defence of Ed Miliband after Tony Blair criticised the Labour leader for blocking military action against Syria.

On Friday morning Blair, a long time advocate of Western intervention in the region, said he had to "disagree with the leadership of the party" over whether Britain should join a US-led strike against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

However Prescott, who served as Blair's deputy during his 10 years as prime minister, suggested his former boss was too obsessed with Iraq-style interventions.

In an interview with the BBC, Blair made clear that he disagreed with the Labour leader's handling of the issue, warning that the country could become a breeding ground for extremists if Assad's regime was not confronted.

However, he also admitted that the long and bloody struggle which followed the invasion of Iraq had left Britain "hesitant" about getting involved. And he said he was "disappointed" that the Commons had rejected a government motion paving the way for direct action.

Blair said without foreign intervention "you will have an Assad-dominated state, and that means in this instance an Iran-dominated state, probably around the borders of Lebanon and controlling most of the wealth of Syria".

"Then you'll have a larger geographical hinterland to the east that will be controlled by various Sunni groups, most of whom are likely in these circumstances to be extreme, and you could have a breeding ground for extremism actually much worse and much more potent than Afghanistan," he added.

Blair's criticism was echoed by former Labour culture secretary Ben Bradshaw, who said many Labour MPs felt "uneasy" that the UK's options had been limited after the government's shock defeat in the Commons.

Bradshaw's claim was rejected by current Labour shadow Europe minister Emma Reynolds, who said it was "simply untrue" that any Labour MPs regretted voting against military action.

Writing in the New Statesman she said: "Labour MPs are extremely concerned about the horrific situation in Syria. None of the colleagues that I have spoken to this week regret demanding that the full evidence should precede any decision and that we weigh carefully the case for military intervention.

"Nor was voting against the government motion last week a decision they took lightly. Cameron was in a rush to prove himself a world leader but he fell down through characteristically abysmal party management, the lack of a compelling argument and poor judgement."