As published in the Mail on Sunday:
Tony Blair did lie, whether he is put on trial is up to Chilcot, says MP David Davis
Next week, after a disgraceful seven-year delay, the Iraq Inquiry will finally publish its long-awaited report.
With evidence from more than 100 witnesses and a cost exceeding £10 million, the report is expected to be more than two-and-a-half million words long.
The inquiry, led by Sir John Chilcot, should never have been allowed to take this long.
The families of those 179 British soldiers who died fighting for their country have suffered for years, waiting for answers, as the inquiry dragged on and on.
If the report is to have any value, it must provide answers to the families of the fallen and insights into what caused this disaster for the policy-makers of today and tomorrow.
The Iraq War claimed the lives of more than 150,000 people. Iraq, once relatively stable, was left a smouldering ruin.
The country is plagued by a horrific violence that has now spread across the region.
The credibility of Western foreign policy has been shattered. How was this allowed to happen?
The most important question is whether Tony Blair lied to the British people and to Parliament. From the evidence presented to the inquiry, it seems clear that he did.
The intelligence evidence Blair relied on was described by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) as ‘sporadic and patchy’.
Yet Blair told the House of Commons that the picture painted by our intelligence services was ‘extensive, detailed and authoritative’.
This was simply untrue, and in making this claim Mr Blair was misrepresenting the available intelligence, a key premise behind his case for war. Some of this bogus evidence was obtained under torture.
Then there was the ‘dodgy dossier’ on Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction. In it, Mr Blair stated that it was ‘beyond doubt’ that Saddam operated and produced WMDs.
In reality the JIC had told Mr Blair that they knew little about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapon capabilities.
Even the wording of the motion approving military action passed by Parliament was laced with deceit, stating that a second UN resolution was not possible as France ‘made plain in public its intention to use its veto whatever the circumstances’.
This again was not true, and was a misrepresentation of what President Chirac had actually said. He had clearly laid out circumstances where France would not have vetoed war.
Sir Stephen Wall, Mr Blair’s EU adviser, told the inquiry that ‘the Prime Minister and Alastair (Campbell, No 10 head of communications) know that what they are claiming Chirac said is not what he actually said’.
It was a deliberate decision by Mr Blair to shift the blame on to France for the failure to secure a second resolution.
These were more than just lies. It was a concerted campaign whereby MPs and the public were misled by constructed mechanisms of deceit.
Intelligence was stretched to the very limit, stripped of warnings as to its reliability, and was then presented as the impartial analysis of the Civil Service.
Public misconceptions, such as over the story that Iraq could deploy WMDs in 45 minutes, went uncorrected by Government.
Worst of all, the structure of government, designed to prevent such transgressions, was undermined.
Mr Blair’s ‘sofa Government’ meant that decisions were not subjected to full Cabinet scrutiny.
Objectors were banished from No 10 and excluded from seeing key documents. The process for deciding to go to war was flawed.
Then there is the question of whether or not Mr Blair had already decided to go to war before he made his case to the British people.
He told Parliament as late as February 2003 that regime change was not necessary if disarmament could be achieved peacefully.
But the evidence to the inquiry showed that since at least early 2002 he had told the US he was fully committed to regime change.
A memo written by Mr Blair’s foreign policy adviser Sir David Manning revealed this subterfuge was necessary because of ‘a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was very different from anything in the States’.
In other words, deceit was used to sway a sceptical population.
There is also the question of whether the war was legal. The then-Attorney General Lord Goldsmith produced a legal opinion expressing doubts that war could be justified without a second UN resolution.
He then revised his opinion, stating that war would be legal if the Government could show that Iraq was in ‘material breach’ of a previous UN resolution.
This reversal was greeted with amazement among Government lawyers. One resigned.
The Cabinet was fobbed off, with legal opinion made to appear far more clear cut than it really was.
Having taken the country to war on shaky grounds, the post-war planning was almost non-existent.
Indeed, Mr Blair appears to have repeatedly ignored warnings from the Armed Forces on this.
He also ignored warnings from Middle East experts who said it was a fantasy that Saddam’s regime could be removed without triggering civil war throughout the region.
The consequences were disastrous, and have overshadowed every action the UK has taken in the Middle East since, in Afghanistan, in Libya, in Syria and in Yemen.
So the evidence presented to the inquiry is clear: Mr Blair misled Parliament and the country by deliberately exaggerating the threat posed by Saddam’s regime, and by deliberately underplaying his own commitment to regime change.
In addition, he took the UK into a disastrous conflict while ignoring warnings about the lack of planning for the aftermath.
How did our system of Government become so corrupted that deliberate inaccuracies and even lies could become the official narrative?
Why did the intelligence chiefs not object to their product being so misrepresented?
Why did the Government’s legal advisers not make more noise about their doubts over the war’s legality?
Chilcot must address this. We must stop presidents and prime ministers from casually killing thousands without thought for the consequences.
It is likely that many people will receive blame in the report. The problem with blaming everyone is that you end up blaming no one. That should not be allowed to confuse the public.
The central question is clear: was Tony Blair guilty of misleading Parliament, guilty of starting an unnecessary and illegal war, and guilty of mismanaging that war, causing thousands of lives to be destroyed unnecessarily?
If the Chilcot report shows the answer to those questions is yes, we will have to think very hard about what we do next.
Because, given the consequences of the Iraq War, no one can be immune from justice.