Contributing to policy in the face of war and the possible taking and sacrificing of life, is a deep and powerful responsibility. Loyalty to country and Prime Minister deepens. But there is also an imperative to do the right thing and, given the atmospherics in No 10 and in Cabinet meetings, this was increasingly difficult.
At the beginning, everyone agreed Saddam Hussein should be given a last chance to get rid of all weapons of mass destruction and there should be a threat of military action if he didn’t comply. What went wrong was that President Bush decided in December that weapons inspections would not achieve the desired results and that the US would take military action.
Chilcot says Blair had told Bush he would be with him ‘whatever’ but had argued that the way to obtain a ‘casus belli’ was through the UN.
Blair had to choose either For me Iraq is a matter of deep shame. I tried to achieve better decisions with the partial information available to me and in a very hostile atmosphere but I failed. to stick with the UN Security Council and try to disarm Iraq without war, or commit to go with the US, on their timetable, when – as Chilcot says – ‘there was no imminent threat from Saddam’.
This is where the need for deception crept in and Blair twisted the facts. The intelligence agencies thought Iraq had WMD but he exaggerated the danger. The legal advice was that a second UN resolution was the ‘safest’ course of action to authorise war, so this was hidden from the Cabinet.
I was stunned when at the last minute Attorney General Lord Goldsmith told the Cabinet there was a reasonable case for legal authority for war without a second UN resolution. I asked whether he had changed his mind and why it had taken him so long to give this advice. But the atmosphere was fraught and other Ministers jeered and no answer was given.
Blair had to find an excuse for halting the UN process. He told us the French would veto any resolution for war. This was not true. The French and the rest of the Security Council believed the inspectors needed more time. Chilcot concludes the UK chose to join the invasion before peaceful options for disarmament were exhausted.
At his emotional press conference responding to Chilcot, Blair said with a catch in his throat that he felt deeply and sincerely all the grief of the people of the UK and Iraq who had lost loved ones. He expressed sorrow, regret and contrition. He claimed the report said there were no lies, Parliament and Cabinet were not misled and there was no rush to war. To cap it all, he said it was the right decision and he would do it all again. At my school we were taught that a lie is the intent to deceive; and that you cannot be forgiven unless you are truly sorry and determined not to sin again.
The great communicator has come to the end of the line. He seemed a broken man.
This is a very sorry tale. For me it is a matter of deep shame. I tried to achieve better decisions with the partial information available to me and in a very hostile atmosphere. But I failed, and this will live with me for the rest of my life.