Monday, June 22, 2009

Blair was involved in Iraq inquiry talks, minister says

Labour backbench anger is going to force Gordon Brown to change his mind on holding most of the Iraq War Inquiry in private, although it is unlikely to make him widen the remit of the inquiry.

Backbenchers are furious that it has been revealed that Tony Blair was influencing Brown behind the scenes.

Mr Blair's involvement in discussions with Sir Gus O'Donnell over the nature of the hearings was confirmed by Shaun Woodward, the Northern Ireland Secretary. "Of course the Cabinet Secretary discussed this with the former prime minister," Mr Woodward said, "because he obviously will be one of the major witnesses who will be giving evidence to Sir John Chilcot's inquiry".

The backbenchers also pointed to a leaked memo yesterday indicating that the former prime minister had been considering the possibility of going to war without a second UN resolution two months before the invasion.

The note, written by his foreign policy adviser Sir David Manning, indicated that Mr Blair and US President George Bush were already discussing ways of legitimising military invasion in case the UN failed to find weapons of mass destruction.

Such documents are likely to go to the heart of the inquiry; suggestions they could be examined in secret provoked uproar among MPs of all parties and senior military and intelligence officers. Mr Brown has already staged a partial retreat by asking Sir John Chilcot, the retired civil servant who will head the inquiry, to hold some sessions in public. But the concession did not go far enough to pacify Labour MPs threatening to support a Tory motion on Wednesday calling for all hearings to be held in public other than for security reasons.

It is said that Blair wanted to avoid a public inquiry because he feared that he would be subjected to some kind of "show trial" were he ever allowed to be interviewed in public over this.

I say he should consider himself lucky only to be subjected to a show trial, as I would be happy to see him face an actual trial for the crime he committed.

Brown has, again, fatally misjudged the mood of the country. We have waited six long years for this matter to be examined. People genuinely want to know the thinking which was behind this catastrophe. The notion that it would be acceptable for the people who lied us into this war to meet in secret and then report to us that everyone acted in "good faith" is simply farcical.

The Government is preparing to table a rival motion on Wednesday promising widespread public hearings in an effort to peel off MPs reluctant to support a Conservative motion. Last night Labour MPs opposed to the war said they would only be satisfied by the majority of hearings being public.

Paul Flynn, the MP for Newport West, said: "We want a clear assurance that the inquiry will be open." Gordon Prentice, MP for Pendle, argued: "The whole way this has been done is so cack-handed and inept it is unbelievable.

"The inquiry should be open with evidence given on oath. There must be an opportunity for the leading players to be cross-examined."

The very least that Blair should be asked to do is answer for what he did in public and under oath. Anything less will not satisfy public anger.

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