LONDON – Tony Blair was not “straight with the nation” over decisions made in the run-up to the Iraq war, Sir John Chilcot has said.
The chairman of the public inquiry into the 2003 conflict, which found that war was declared on “flawed” intelligence, said that the former prime minister had failed to be completely straightforward with the public.
In an interview with the BBC, Chilcot said: “I think any prime minister taking a country into war has got to be straight with the nation and carry it, so far as possible, with him or her. I don’t believe that was the case in the Iraq instance.”
The inquiry’s report, published last year, concluded that the UK joined the invasion of Iraq before all peaceful options had been exhausted and that military action was not the last resort. It also found that Blair overestimated his ability to influence US policy on Iraq.
Chilcot said: “Tony Blair is always and ever an advocate. He makes the most persuasive case he can. Not departing from the truth but persuasion is everything. Advocacy for my position, ‘my Blair position’.”
Asked by Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s political editor, whether he thought Blair gave the fullest version of events, Chilcot said: “I think he gave an – what was – I hesitate to say this, rather but I think it was from his perspective and standpoint, emotionally truthful and I think that came out also in his press conference after the launch statement.
“I think he was under very great emotional pressure during those sessions… he was suffering. He was deeply engaged. Now in that state of mind and mood you fall back on your instinctive skill and reaction, I think.”
Discussing the now infamous note sent by Blair to then US president George W. Bush, in which the former prime minister wrote “I shall be with you whatever,” Chilcot said his immediate reaction was “you mustn’t say that.”
Chilcot, who was appointed to chair the inquiry by Gordon Brown in 2009, added: “You’re giving away far too much. You’re making a binding commitment by one sovereign government to another which you can’t fulfil. You’re not in a position to fulfil it. I mean he didn’t even know the legal position at that point.”
A spokesman for Blair told Business Insider that the BBC put “words [into] John Chilcot’s mouth”.
They added: “A full reading of the interview shows that Sir John makes clear that Mr Blair had not ‘departed from the truth’.
“Sir John also makes clear that on the eve of the invasion Mr Blair, “asked the then Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, can you tell me beyond any reasonable doubt that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. To which the answer was, yes I can. He was entitled to rely on that.”
“Five different inquiries have all shown the same thing: that there was no falsifying of the intelligence.”
At a press conference following the publication of the report, Blair said that he felt sorrow and regret at the deaths of members of the British military and Iraqi civilians as a result of the invasion of Iraq. He also accepted that the intelligence which caused the UK to go to war was wrong.
Chilcot also revealed that he was only given eight minutes to decide on whether he wanted to chair the inquiry and decided to because: “I knew that I could do it in a way that would not be the same as other inquiries which had proved problematic, frankly, in their procedure.”
The inquiry took seven years to publish its findings, something Chilcot attributes to there being “so much stuff. It was a history of, in effect, starting in 2001, of eight to nine years of diplomatic, military, political resource, every sort of aspect.”
On Wednesday a High Court appeal was launched by the former Iraqi general Abdulwaheed al-Rabba in an attempt to bring Blair to a war crimes trial in Britain.
The fact the Chilcot inquiry found that the Iraq war was unnecessary and undermined the United Nations was used by Michael Mansfield QC as arguments calling for a war crimes trial.
An application to launch the prosecution was earlier dismissed by Westminster magistrates court on the basis that the crime of aggression does not exist in English law and Blair has immunity.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was asked by the Guardian whether he agreed with Chilcot’s assessment of Blair not being “straight with the nation” and he said: “I have made that very clear in the past year, and, yes, I do.
“The case against the Iraq War is a very strong one. We have got to think very carefully as a country what has happened since the Iraq War and the consequences that flowed from what I believe was a catastrophically wrong decision in 2003.”