The deliberate deception of Parliament - Dr Glen Rangwala.pdf1/ 18
1 The deliberate deception of Parliament By Dr Glen Rangwala Trinity College, University of Cambridge
Summary From late 2001 to March 2003, Tony Blair made three inter-related statements repeatedly to the House of Commons: (1) that no decision had been taken to use military force against Iraq; (2) that military action could be avoided by Iraq’s disarmament of its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons; and (3) that regime change was not the goal of government policy. The Report of the Iraq Inquiry, published on 6th July 2016 – the Chilcot report – has demonstrated conclusively and authoritatively that each of these three statements was untrue, and that its falsity was known to Mr Blair. The evidence presented in the Chilcot report shows that Mr Blair was deliberately misleading the House of Commons. According to Erskine May (24th edition, p.254), making a deliberately misleading statement in the House constitutes a grave contempt of Parliament.
Mr Blair backed up his claims about the need for Iraq’s disarmament by asserting (4) that there was conclusive evidence of Iraq’s possession of ‘weapons of mass destruction’, and (5) that these weapons were a threat to the UK’s national security. On both points, these statements contradicted the intelligence assessments that had been put to Mr Blair. He did not address the threats that would arise to the UK in the event of an invasion despite repeated intelligence assessments put to him concerning this matter, and direct questions about these threats. Mr Blair knowingly endangered UK domestic security through his actions, and his statements about threats were in direct contravention of the July 2001 Ministerial Code, which required ministers to “be as open as possible with Parliament”.
Finally, Mr Blair stated in March 2003 that (6) diplomacy had been exhausted in seeking to avoid an invasion of Iraq. This is shown to be untrue by the Chilcot report, and again involved Mr Blair deliberately misleading the House of Commons. This report summarises the evidence from the Chilcot report and the accompanying documents that statements (1)-(6) made by Mr Blair were either knowingly untrue or involved serious omissions which misled the House of Commons. Statements quoted from Mr Blair are in boxes on the left, while quoted material from and evaluations in the Chilcot report are in boxes on the right. 1. The decision to use military force In the period from 6th March 2002 to 14 March 2003, Mr Blair faced numerous oral and written questions in the House of Commons about the possibility of the use of force against Iraq. The response given each time was that “no decision has been taken” about action against Iraq. In fact, the Chilcot report reveals that from December 2001, Mr Blair had been proposing an invasion of Iraq to the US administration, had been offering UK military support for that invasion, and – as he became convinced over mid-2002 that the US would lead an invasion – had given his personal commitment to support US action. It is impossible to view this as anything other than a “decision” to use military force. Mr Blair began to use this phrase to the Commons from March 2002: “I totally understand why there is a lot of speculation about action on Iraq, but, as I constantly repeat, no decision has been taken at all in respect of any action. There is a very clear view, which must be right, that Iraq should come back into compliance with UN Security Council resolutions and that it certainly posed a threat on weapons of mass destruction, but no decision-making process has taken place as yet.” - Tony Blair, Prime Minister’s Questions, 18 March 2002
"In late March 2003, I wrote to Tony about Iraq:
Our involvement in Bush’s war will increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks. Attacking a Muslim state without achieving a fair settlement of the Palestine–Israeli situation is an affront to Muslims, from our local mosques to the far-flung corners of the world. A pre-emptive attack of the kind we have made on Iraq will only deepen the sense of grievance among Muslims that the Western/Christian/Jewish world is out to oppress them. This will provide a propaganda victory to Osama Bin Laden and can only increase his support and the likelihood of more acts of terrorism."
Paul Flynn MP
He continued to use it whenever asked a question in the House of Commons about the potential for military action in Iraq: “I reiterate what I said a moment ago: we have not yet reached the point of decision, and should we do so, of course the House will be properly consulted. People are perfectly entitled to express their views on these issues. But my view remains that weapons of mass destruction are a serious threat, and it is important that we deal with it. How we deal with it is an open question. If decisions are taken, there will be ample opportunity for the House to be consulted.” - Tony Blair, Prime Minister’s Questions, 24 July 2002 In contrast to what Mr Blair was telling the House of Commons, his letter to President Bush in December 2001 proposed both a military strategy against Iraq and a political strategy for winning over international public opinion to it: “at present international opinion would be reluctant, outside the US/UK, to support immediate military action though, for sure, people want to be rid of Saddam. So we need a strategy for regime change that builds over time. I suggest: (i) Softening up first. We draw attention to Saddam’s breach of UN resolutions; we say regime change is ‘desirable’ […]; (v) We mount covert operations with people and groups with the ability to topple Saddam; (vi) When the rebellion finally occurs we back it militarily.” - Mr Blair’s letter to President Bush, 4 December 2001. Underlining in Blair’s original text Mr Blair was specifically asked about commitments made to the US, in a question from Elfyn Llwyd: “Has he [the Prime Minister] given the United States any commitment that the United Kingdom would support unilateral action against Iraq?” He responded: “As I said a moment ago, we are not at the stage of taking decisions about military action. However, it is important to recognise that in the event of the UN's will not being complied with we must be prepared to take that action. We are not at the point of decision yet, but no one should be in any doubt that it is important to express very clearly that should the UN's will not be resolved through weapons inspections and monitoring, it has to be resolved in a different way.” - Tony Blair, to the House of Commons, 24 September 2002 Mr Blair did not answer the question about commitments made to the US, but the record of his communication with the US administration shows him making exactly those commitments to the US Vice-President six months earlier, and again in a note to President Bush two months before facing the question in the Commons. He also gave advice about how to win around public opinion to military action, and proposing a timetable for military action: “it was highly desirable to get rid of Saddam … the UK would help [the US] as long as there was a clever strategy, and one that worked.
This meant building up the case against Saddam carefully and intelligently. … As far as military strategy was concerned, we must ensure that our forces were equipped to finish the job quickly and successfully.” - Mr Blair to US Vice-President Cheney, on 11 March 2002 “I will be with you, whatever. […] Here is what could bring [public] opinion round. (1) The UN. We don’t want to be mucked around by Saddam over this, and the danger is he drags us into negotiation. But we need, as with Afghanistan and the ultimatum to the Taliban, to encapsulate our casus belli in some defining way. This is certainly the simplest. We could, in October as the build-up starts, state that he must let the inspectors back in unconditionally and do so now, ie set a 7-day deadline. [..] he [Saddam] probably would screw it up and not meet the deadline, and if he came forward after the deadline, we would just refuse to deal. (2) The Evidence. [..] If we recapitulate all the WMD evidence; add his attempts to secure nuclear capability; and, as seems possible, add on Al Qaida link, it will be hugely persuasive over here. […] We would support in any way we can. On timing, we could start building up after the break. A strike date could be Jan/Feb next year. But the crucial issue is not when, but how. - Mr Blair’s note to President Bush, 28 July 2002. Underlining in Blair’s original text. The same approach of denying any decision had been taken was maintained all the way through to March 2003: “No decision to launch military action against Iraq has been taken.”
4 - Tony Blair, written answer to a Parliamentary question, 11 March 2003 By this point, Mr Blair had already planned out a timetable for the invasion of Iraq with President Bush. The decision to deploy ground troops was taken on 17 January 2003, without discussion in Cabinet or notification to Parliament (The Chilcot Report, Volume 5, section 6.2, pp.413-427). On 24 January 2003, he sent President Bush a note and suggested in the subsequent conversation commencing the invasion in late March: “Mr Blair argued that ‘we needed to look reasonable’ and that the deadline for the start of military action should be delayed to the end of March.” - The Chilcot Report, Volume 3 (section 3.6), p.118, on the conversation between Bush and Blair on 24 January 2003 When Mr Blair met President Bush on 31 January, the joint commitment for military action was already clear, and the issue for the UK was merely whether they would be able to organise another Security Council Resolution to legitimise a decision that had already been taken: “When Mr Blair met President Bush on 31 January it was clear that the window of opportunity before the US took military action would be very short. The military campaign could begin ‘around 10 March’. President Bush agreed to support a second resolution to help Mr Blair. Mr Blair confirmed that he was ‘solidly with the President and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam’ Hussein.” - The Chilcot Report, Volume 3 (section 3.6), p.163 While Mr Blair was telling the House of Commons that no decision had been taken to launch military action, he had already committed UK troops to support the US, leaving only discussions of strategy and the timetable to be arranged. 2. Iraq’s disarmament and the need for force Mr Blair repeatedly told the House of Commons that the reason why military action was a possibility was because of Iraq’s possession of chemical and biological weapons, and its development of nuclear weapons. He assured the Commons that if Iraq were to renounce these weapons, there would be no need for military action. By contrast, the Chilcot report reveals that weapons inspections for Iraq’s disarmament were no more than a public relations strategy, chosen because it was believed the Iraqi leader would trip up in verifying compliance, and thus providing the pretext for military action.