Monday, June 27 2016

Blair to Face Chilcot Inquiry for Second Time

Tony Blair
 Tony Blair was placed under further pressure ahead of his second appearance on Friday before the Iraq Inquiry after Lord Goldsmith, the former attorney general and Blair’s most senior legal adviser, said on Monday that the former prime minister's public statements, that Britain did not need a UN resolution explicitly authorising force, contradicted the legal advice Blair had been given.

From The Independent:

“In a written statement to the Chilcot inquiry, Lord Goldsmith, the former attorney general, suggested Mr Blair's statements to Parliament about the legality of the invasion were not compatible with the advice handed to the prime minister. He said Mr Blair's statements made him ‘uncomfortable’. He described how he was cut out of discussions over the drafting of the UN resolution used as cover for the invasion of March 2003. He said if he had been consulted, he would have seriously altered the wording of the resolution.

“The revelations will intensify criticisms of Mr Blair, who will give further evidence on Friday. He will be asked about why he made definitive statements disputed by Lord Goldsmith.

It also suggests Mr Blair may have misled Parliament over the legality of the war. Lord Goldsmith called into question some of the arguments used by Mr Blair during a crucial speech to MPs on 15 January 2003, as he attempted to convince them of the need to deal with Saddam Hussein.

“‘There are circumstances in which a [UN] resolution is not necessary, because it is necessary to be able to say in circumstances where an unreasonable veto is put down that we would still act,’ he said during the speech.

“Just a day before, Lord Goldsmith had told Mr Blair that the current UN resolution dealing with Saddam could not be used to justify an invasion.

“Mr Blair later repeated his claim that Britain could act without another resolution, even if the French attempted to veto military action against Iraq. ‘If, however, a country were to issue a veto ... then I would consider action outside of that,’ he said during a Newsnight interview on 6 February.

“Asked by the Chilcot inquiry whether ‘the Prime Minister's words were compatible with the advice’ he had been given, Lord Goldsmith stated in his reply published yesterday: ‘No.’”

“The new submission from Lord Goldsmith also reveals how he was cut out of the process of drafting UN Resolution 1441, which was ultimately used by the government to justify its participation in the invasion. He said that after revealing he did not believe an early draft of the resolution gave Britain legal cover to invade Iraq, during a meeting with Mr Blair in October 2002, he ‘was no longer consulted’. Key telegrams from the US about the state of negotiations were not shown to him.”

In January last year, the testimony to the Chilcot inquiry of Sir Michael Wood, chief legal adviser at the Foreign Office, and his deputy, Elizabeth Wilmshurt, also revealed the extent to which the Blair government ignored the legal advice of international law experts in seeming determination to wage war.

While Blair was seemingly busy ignoring the advice of Lord Goldsmith, then foreign secretary, Jack Straw, was reported as telling US vice president, Dick Cheney that it would be “OK” if they failed to get a second UN resolution – despite being told by Sir Michael Wood that using force without Security Council authority would amount to “a crime of aggression.”

On Friday, Blair will also reportedly be made to face claims that he misrepresented the findings of a report from international inspectors, the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), sent in to Iraq following the invasion to look for evidence that Saddam Husssein had been amassing ‘weapons of mass destruction.’

During his last testimony at the Chilcot inquiry, Blair said “It is absolutely clear from the Iraq Survey Group... that [Saddam] was concealing material he should have delivered up to the UN”, although the Iraq Survey Group found no evidence of WMD.

It also emerged today that private memos sent between Tony Blair and George Bush in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, which are understood to contain information about the promises of Mr. Blair to then US President, George Bush on Britain’s readiness to join in any military action against Iraq, are to be kept secret.

Following consultation with Tony Blair, Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell refused to allow their publication. It was reported in November 2009 that a protocol agreed between the inquiry and Gordon Brown’s administration included “nine wide-ranging reasons under which Whitehall departments can refuse to publish documents disclosed to the investigation. Crucially, disputes between Sir John and the Government over disclosures would be resolved by the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell.”

The inquiry has described the memos as being of “central importance” in establishing the circumstances that led to war.

A leading article in today’s Independent argues that “there remains a powerful public interest in getting to the bottom of how this country ended up in this most disastrous of foreign adventures.”

This is evident, given that the former head of MI5, Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, told the Chilcot inquiry that the invasion of Iraq had “substantially” increased the terrorist threat to the UK and was a “highly significant” factor in how “home-grown” extremists justified their actions.

Britain’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq has been cited as a reason by the men accused of the 7th July 2005 bombings of the London underground system, as well as Roshonara Choudhry, who stabbed East Ham MP, Stephen Timms, in May this year because he had voted to invade Iraq.

Gordon Brown announced in June 2009 that the Chilcot inquiry is “essential” because “it will ensure that, by learning lessons, we strengthen the health of our democracy, our diplomacy and our military.”

Determining what lessons can be learnt is made all the more difficult by actions such as those of the Cabinet Secretary in refusing to disclose documents of ‘central importance’ relating to circumstances that led to war and increased the terrorist threat to Britain.

A source close to the inquiry told The Independent, “There is a feeling that… on elements like the legal advice, [Blair] wilfully misrepresented the facts. The [panel members] are bruised by the suggestions that they gave him an easy ride last year, but they will be more prepared this time round.”

Simon Jenkins, in a comment piece for the Guardian, reflected on the usefulness of such inquiries. He wrote:

“A public inquiry is a surrogate court of law. It should be crisp, swift and certain in its justice, allocating praise and blame for some catastrophe, as a punishment and a deterrent. Instead British inquiries, such as those often held into welfare tragedies, have become substitutes for proper, ongoing democratic accountability.”

It remains to be seen whether these words will hold true of the Chilcot inquiry and just how effective the inquiry panel will be at not repeating the ‘easy ride’ they gave Tony Blair last year.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 17:14

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