John Major – 1991 Commons Statement on Gulf War

Below is the text of the statement made by John Major, the then Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on 17 January 1991.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on the start of hostilities in the Gulf in the small hours of this morning.

Aircraft of the multinational force began attacks on military targets in Iraq from around midnight Greenwich mean time. Several hundred aircraft were involved in the action, including a substantial number of RAF aircraft. The action was taken under the authority of United Nations Security Council resolution 678 which authorises use of all necessary means, including force, after 15 January to bring about Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait.

The action was taken after extensive consultation with the principal Governments represented in the multinational force and following direct discussions between President Bush and myself over a period of weeks. It was taken only after exhaustive diplomatic efforts through the UN, the European Community, Arab Governments and others to persuade Saddam Hussein to withdraw peacefully.

The action is continuing. Attacks have been directed at Iraq’s military capability, in particular airfields, aircraft, missile sites, nuclear and chemical facilities and other military targets. Reports so far received suggest that they have been successful. Allied aircraft losses have been low. I regret to inform the House that one RAF Tornado from later raids is reported missing.

The instructions issued to our pilots and those of other forces are to avoid causing civilian casualties so far as possible.

Our aims are clear and limited. They are those set out in the United Nations Security Council resolutions: to get Iraq out of Kuwait-all of Kuwait; to restore the legitimate Government; to re-establish peace and security in the area; and to uphold the authority of the United Nations.

As I explained in the debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday, it is only with the greatest reluctance that we have come to the point of using force as authorised by the Security Council. We did so only after all peaceful means had failed and Saddam Hussein’s intransigence left us no other course. We have no quarrel with the people of Iraq. We hope very much for a speedy end to hostilities. That will come about when Saddam Hussein withdraws totally and unconditionally from Kuwait. Our military action will continue until he comes to his senses and does so.

Most of all, our thoughts go to the men and women of our forces and their families who wait anxiously at home. [HON. MEMBERS: “Hear, hear.”] They have our wholehearted support and our prayers for a safe return home.