With the Chilcot Inquiry due to report tomorrow, it’s time for to return to the fray with a new blog. Sir John Chilcot, a former civil servant, was appointed by Gordon Brown, the then Prime Minister, to head up an inquiry that would look into the run-up to the war and its bloody aftermath in 2009 amid continuing anger over the way that his predecessor Tony Blair had taken us to war, with all the evidence showing that he had done so illegally.
It’s taken seven long years and more than two and a half million words to get to this point but what precisely will it tell us about ‘the way decisions were made and actions taken’ in the run-up to the Iraq War? Did Tony Blair lie? Did he take us to war illegally?
Probably best, given the speculation so far, to look at what we already know. Much of which comes from a series of documents leaked to me when I was working first on the Daily Telegraph and then on the Sunday Times and which became known as the Downing Street Memos after the most fascinating of these, the minutes of a meeting of Tony Blair’s war cabinet on 23 July 2002.
The key issue people seem anxious to know, which is deemed to be important in supposed plans to impeach Blair, and who really believes that is going to happen, is when did he decide to go to war. Was it at George Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002, long before parliament was told we were going to war, and at a time when Blair was refusing to let any preparations for war to begin?
We don’t need Chilcot to tell us the answer to this. We already know the answer. We have a document which lays it out in full. A Cabinet Office briefing paper for the participants at that meeting said unequivocally:
‘When the Prime Minister discussed Iraq with President Bush at Crawford in April he said that the UK would support military action to bring about regime change.’
This was arguably the most important point made in any of the Downing Street Memos and although it was the Sunday Times lead when we broke the story, its significance was largely ignored by both the UK and US media. Even those who followed the article up said the memos showed that Blair and Bush had agreed to go to war in July.
If you still believe that read the above quote again.
‘When the Prime Minister discussed Iraq with President Bush at Crawford in April he said that the UK would support military action to bring about regime change, provided that certain conditions were met: efforts had been made to construct a coalition/shape public opinion, the Israel-Palestine Crisis was quiescent, and the options for action to eliminate Iraq’s WMD through the UN weapons inspectors had been exhausted.’
Note the caveat, because it is important to consider how meaningful it was when we look at what happened immediately after that meeting. That will be the subject of my next blog and is to my mind one of the worst aspects of the behaviour of the Prime Minister and his closest associates in the period between April 2002 and the start of the war in March 2003.