2.56pm: OK, we’ve slowed the refresh time on the post and will set up a new window for rest of coverage. Should make it easier to read. Give us a minute. Click here to read Live blog: Tony Blair at the Iraq inquiry – part 2.
2.54pm: Blair says what he needed to know from him [Goldsmith] in the end was what was his conclusion? Was this lawful? “Incidentally, he wasn’t alone in international law for coming to that conclusion. As I say, if you read 1441, it was pretty clear this was Saddam’s last chance.”
2.52pm Classic politician’s trick from Blair: how can you not believe me? “When you go back and read 1441, it’s pretty obvious you can make a decent case for this,” he says, inviting agreement. Sir Rod will not be drawn. “Let me not pass judgment on this. I’m asking questions. I don’t have an opinion to state on this.”
2.51pm: “We’re not lawyers,” says Sir Rod, again. Hear, hear.
2.50pm: Alex: The press room is clearing enjoying Sir Rod Lyne’s dry put downs. He’s certainly not giving the impression that he was Tony Blair’s “favourite ambassador” when he was posted to Moscow. “I’m not a lawyer
and you are,” he just said to Blair, which drew a chuckle from the hacks around me. Earlier, after one particularly long explanation of the threat from Iran, Sir Rod shot back: “Yes I think you have made that point very clear.” He’s warming up a bit now on the legality of the war. Expect a few more barbs.
2.48pm: Sir Rod asks if it would have been useful to have Goldsmith’s advice by early 2003. Blair says if Goldsmith had said action against Iraq was unlawful, it would not have happened. He says the government knew its options. It had not received formal advice, but Goldsmith had made clear his opinion.
2.44pm: Sorry for break in the coverage. Technical glitch, now resolved.
2.36pm: Sir Rodric says legal issue barely discussed between attorney and Blair in the run-up to war. So, you go to the point, quite close to the point, with Goldsmith having only been to the cabinet twice. Blair replies that the issue was not how many times he had been to cabinet, but the advice he was giving. Goldsmith made it quite clear from an early stage that if he wanted to give advice, he would.
2.33pm: Of course, we all know that Goldsmith was leant on by Washington’s lawyers during a trip to the US in the previous month… an FT scoop in the run-up to the 2005 general election, no less.
2.23pm Blair agrees so far with the inquiry’s summary of Goldsmith’s evidence. Onto the former attorney general’s change of mind.
2.20pm: So Blair has confirmed that Bush offered him a get out, but he opted not to take it. September 11 had changed the world for him – as well as Bush. The alliance with Washington was paramount, a huge influence on Blair’s action. Plus, of course, the former prime minister’s “judgment”, a word we are hearing him use a lot.
2.17pm: Change of tack. Onto the legal advice Blair received from Goldsmith et al. Blair gets to take a breather. The inquiry are going to summarise what they’ve heard on this.
2.15pm: He hasn’t called Chirac “a cheese-eating surrender monkey” yet. Can’t be long though.
2.12pm: Sir Rodric takes over again. Did Bush, when you hadn’t got the preconditions you had wanted, offer to go it alone and give you a way out?
“They said if it is too difficult for Britian, we understand. But I took the view very strongly that it was right for us to be with America. It is true that it was very divisive, but it was divisive in the sense there were two groups… divisive in the EU, in parliament, in the cabinet,” says Blair.
“My judgment ultimately was that Saddam is going to be a threat. .. Our alliance with America was important… We’d been down a UN path I genuinely had hoped would work… I did hope it would work. I wasn’t confident about Saddam, and I think for perfectly good reasons… So I could see a situation where I could be faced with this choice, but I was trying to do everything to avoid it.”
2.09pm Why don’t they just bung us the documents and we’ll stick them up? Sheesh, getting Goldsmith’s legal advice back in 2005 was easier than this.
2.08pm: Alex: “More on the “classified” documents. The cabinet office have agreed to declassify some documents for the Inquiry, but they are so unimportant that the panel didn’t think it necessary to publish them. That changed when Blair referred to them in his evidence today. They’ll be up on the Inquiry website soon. The wait is apparently because most of the inquiry staff are at the QE2 centre – where they don’t have the kit to publish it online…..”
2.05pm Blair: “I wasn’t trying to be in a position where France and Britain fell out. But it was very clear to me the French, the Germans and the Russians had decided they weren’t going to agree with this…”
“My judgment was that, by then, there was a political divide on this of a pretty fundamental nature.”
2.02pm Freedman is leading the questions again. Wants to come back to the days before the war. He wants to know more about the communication between London and Paris on the 2nd UN resolution. Did Blair feel if we had pursued investigations, the French would have been prepared to vote for war?
2.00pm Welcome back. Ropey sandwiches in the FT canteen just haven’t done the job. Should have gone to Borough market. Anyway, I’ve got some bananas and more coffee so here we go. Blair up imminently.
12.52pm: Verdict so far? After a shaky start, Blair has taken command. He sounded unconvicing on the intelligence, which is no surprise as it has turned out to be baloney. And he has admitted discussing military options with Bush at Crawford in April 2002, but denied Sir Christopher Meyer’s claim that he “signed in blood” for war. He was, he says, always committed to the UN route until he felt that had failed.
All of this is very familiar and, as Alex says, the inquiry team’s frustration is beginning to show. Blair is convinced he was right. But how many believe him? (We’ll be back at 2pm)
12.50pm: One of the bereaved, Sarah Chapman, is on television outside the QEII. She says Blair is showing disrespect and has not been “man enough” to face the relatives in the room. “He can’t give me what I want and that’s my brother,” she says.
12.47pm Adam Boulton [Sky political editor] in full flow. Highlights Blair’s belief that his role in trying to get a 2nd UN resolution was not to authorise war, but to get more time for the weapons inspectors, that Blair felt Blix’s position was confused – and that, therefore, Saddam was in breach of UN resolutions.
The problem, says Boulton, was that there was the ambiguous 1441 resolution [the first resolution] that people could take as meaning different things. That allowed the US and UK to blame Chirac’s intransigence.
12.40pm: Chilcot calls time for lunch. Thanks for your very attentive reponse, he tells Blair. Clearly, he hasn’t seen the dozing hacks in the press room.
12.39pm: Alex: “Blair in full flow on nasty Saddam toying with inspectors. Freedman is struggling to pin him down (and is showing his frustration a bit). The panel have troubled Blair a bit more when they pick over specific meetings – who was there, what opposing advice did you take, how did you take the decision, why did you not make this point etc. That came through over the meeting at Chequers when containment was dropped. Wonder if they will return to that type of questioning in the next session. Blair is running rings around them at the moment.”
12.36pm: The Sunday Times’s A A Gill can’t take anymore. Don’t worry old chap, it’s nearly lunch.
12.29pm: On Blix’s 7th March, 2003 report, Blair says: Whether Blix [who has been critical of the invasion] thought action was justified or not, his reports were clear that compliance was not full and not immediate. I don’t believe if Hans Blix had another six months it would have come out any different.”
12.26pm: Blair insists that Saddam would have built WMD after UN weapons inspectors had left Iraq and sanctions were lifted. He retained the intent and know-how to make WMD. He says Hans Blix, chief weapons inspector, would never have got a satisfactory result. Saddam was playing games.
12.21pm: Alex: “Notice that Freedman is referring to “reports” in the NY Times about Blair’s meeting with Bush. It was their account of the leaked “Manning memo” minuting a crucial White House meeting in January 2003. Clearly the inquiry has failed to get the document declassified so far. It is important for this reason. Blair agreed a timetable to war at the meeting. But he had been warned that he still needed a second resolution – both legally and politically. These points don’t seem to have been made very clearly to Bush, at least according to the “reports” of the meeting. It would be good to see the actual memo.
12.16pm: Blair hasn’t denied there was a behind-the-scenes start date for war. Only a fool would pretend otherwise. But his explanation is making it look like, as many people suspect, that it was the presence of thousands of US soldiers and armour on the ground – in the rising heat – that was a big driver here.
In other words, the reason the French were such a big problem was that there simply wasn’t enough time left for diplomacy if a military campaign was to be launched and be successful.
12.12pm: How did Blair think he could get a resolution in such a short period of time – six or seven weeks – before the US’s start date of military campaign?
“We had time enough to do it,” he says. “The problem was very simple. In the end, after [UN resolution] 1441, France and Germany and Russia moved to a different position… essentially saying to America we’re not going to be with you on this.”
Ouch. Lingering evidence of contempt for Chirac over the French position in the run-up to the conflict. The American view was that Saddam had been given a final opportunity to comply.
12.05pm: Onto the January 31st, 2003 meeting with Bush. Was Blair’s main objective to convince the US president that it was necessary to get a second UN resolution authorising military action?
Yes it was, says Blair. Second resolution would have made life easier “in every respect”.
Indeed, says the inquiry, the last advice he received from Lord Goldsmith, then attorney general, before going to Washington was that he believed that you did need a second resolution.
Blair: “Correct… But Peter [Goldsmith] was not saying the resolution had to be in those terms, but that you had to come back for decision.”
11.59am: Next question: “Would it not have been reasonable – and expedient – to explain publicly that, while UK hoped for peaceful outcome in disarming Saddam, we were preparing for all eventualities, including military action?” i.e. why keep all the war preparations secret – and make it look like they weren’t in train?
Blair: “People kept writing: ‘They’ve decided”… That wasn’t our position, Our position was we wanted to get America down the UN route….. nonethelesss, we had to do military planning.
“My worry was we were going to be in a positoin where people assume that which has not been decided.”
11.53am: Onto the other contentious assertion: the notion in the dossier that the WMD threat posed by Saddam had “grown”. Why “grown”? In reply, Blair blurbs about non-compliance with the UN and then refers to specific intelligence: “Although this particular piece of intelligence turned out later to be wrong, though at the time we didn’t know that, on the 12 September , I was told and briefed about these mobile facilities for biological weapons… a new fact.”
The decision I had to make, given Saddam’s history, was could we take this risk? In other words, trust me (again).
11.47am: “It was at least reasonable for me at the time, given this evidence, and given what the JIC was telling me, that this was a threat we should take seriously.”
There is a big, big difference between what Blair “believed” to be “beyond doubt” and asserting at the time that something was “beyond doubt”….
11.43am: Sir Lawrence tackles him on the executive summary of the now infamous intelligence dossier the government released in the weeks prior to invastion. This contained the assertion, penned by Campbell, that Iraq “beyond doubt” had WMD: now known to be nonsense. Blair insists that he “believed” at the time “beyond doubt” that Saddam had had WMD. You believed, snaps Sir Lawrence, or anybody believed? “If I had said it was “clear that” in the foreword rather than “beyond doubt”, it would have meant the same,” says Blair. Weak, weak, weak.
Another admission: “Now I would take government right out of it. I would simply have published, had the intelligence services been willing, to publish the JIC [joint intelligence committee] assessment.” Their version was a much more caveated assessment – unlikely to have been as powerful in making the case for military action.
11.40am: Alex: “Funny that Blair seems so keen to take on Tehran (immensely dangerous links with terror groups, nukes etc). I haven’t heard Gordon Brown making that case very vocally of late.”
11.31am: Ah-ha. Sir Lawrence is onto the 45 minute claim. But my live stream is breaking down. He says the way the readiness of battlefield munitions was reported was misleading. He’s an expert in this field – and should know.
Blair says the 45 minute claims has taken on far more significance it held at the time. Admits that it would certainly have been better to have corrected it.
But he insists that Downing Street did not insert the claim – as the Hutton inquiry concluded. The claim related to battlefied weapons, but was reported as a threat externally – to Cyprus for exmaple.
11.26am: Sir Lawrence Freedman is asking about intelligence. What was the link between Iraqi WMD and al-Qaeda, he asks. The presumption being that evidence has showed there was no link. Blair replies that his fear was that states that were “highly repressive or failed, the danger of a WMD link is that they become porous” and construct different alliances with people.
“Yes, it’s true we did not have evidence Saddam was behind the September 11 attacks” – one of the differences between us and the Americans was that we said we did not have evidence to support that, he says. “I was always worried that these things would come together – states, proliferation of WMD and terrorist groups.” He thinks Iran today is a very serious threat.
11.21am: Saddam and WMD was “not a counter-intuitive notion”, says Blair. He had them, he’d used them.
11.18am: Sir Martin Gilbert takes up the questioning. Was there no other aspect of Iraqi regime that could make for a better route for UN action…? Not sure what he means by that. Blair says his assessment of the security threat was intimately connected to the nature of the regime.
11.17am: Alex: “The bereaved families sitting behind Blair were clearly unimpressed. Most of them sat looking somewhat bewildered as Sir Rod Lyne went through the fine details of smart sanctions. I even spotted one yawn. But that all changed when the matter of Fern Britton was brought up. Blair’s claim to have been taught a lesson in cross-examination by the daytime television presenter triggered a sharp intake of breath. One lady started tutting and shaking her head. I managed to collar one audience member at the end who was not impressed. “They haven’t asked him what we’re all here to hear,” she complained, saying the equipment for troops was her main worry. “I don’t like him,” she added. “He just sounds so condescending.”
11.15am: Blair says Bush left us very much to decide what to do in terms of the military contribution. He says he felt it was important for us to be in there right alongside the US. “My views is, if we think it’s right, we should be prepared to play our part fully.”
11.11am: They’re back. Prashar is onto Crawford again. But her question is a bit long and rambling and gets into military planning.
11.10am: Alex is out: “Well I’ve just emerged from the Inquiry room. The most important thing to tell you is that Tony Blair’s hand was shaking. He was nervous. There was a wobble as he reached for his water and as he waited for the first question. He quickly realised, clasping his hands together.
“Nick Robinson [BBC political editor], who was sitting in front of me, said the last time he had seen a shaky Blair hand was sixteen years ago. It is amazing to see a man who has waged wars on three continents be brought low by the sight of Sir John Chilcott. But he did. That said, after about ten minutes it was back to normal. Blair was relaxed, calm and lucid. He’d clearly put in the hours of preparation. There was a file with papers four inches deep in front of him that he was skipping through it with ease. A lot of it was covered with spider like Blair scribbles.”
11am: Crowds outside have diminished, but the protesters are still noisy. Probably about 200 there now. Sky saying people have come down from Scotland for this. Rachel Boothroyd, from Liverpool, says: “They need to be held accountable for what they’ve done.”
10.58am: Coffee, coffee, coffee. Mmmm.. So, his line on the Fern Britton interview was pretty weak. He batted it away rather than answer the question. Also, expect him to pressed further on Crawford and what he meant by “failure” of the UN route: was this a commitment to military action without a UN resolution endorsing it or to military action if UN pressure failed to make Saddam disarm. There is a difference.
10.49am: Chilcot says time to take a break. Good. I’m going to get a coffee and bun.
10.44am: OK, I’m opening a sweepstake on how many times Blair says: “Look, the important point is….” Reckon it’s about half a dozen times now. The crucial thing, he says, is that he would not have invaded Iraq if he did not think it was right. The “trust me” defence. Not sure that will go down well with the protesters in the rain outside.
10.42am: On Crawford again, in the light of Campbell’s evidence on the Bush meeting: “If we tried the UN route and it failed, then my view was, yes, that had to be dealt with.”
10.35am: Prashar says of Crawford that Meyer, the former US ambassador, said you were saying “but” but that the “but” was not being listened to. Blair says witheringly: “I don’t think Christopher Meyer was there at that critical meeting.”
Prashar is a rottweiler. She’s at him again. What did Bush think of your position? Fact is, Blair says, force was always an option. If not other way of dealing with this threat, we would remove him [Sadddam].
“The position was not a covert position, it was an open position.” Prashar interrupts: “But what did president Bush understand by the tenor of your correspondence with him?” Blair replies: “We would be with him on dealing with that threat. How we dealt with it was an open question.” And, even at that stage, we were going for the UN route.
Aarrgh. Blair dodges the question and begins reading from transcript of press conference at the time.
10.31am: She’s pressing on this. Good stuff. Why, she says, do people think he gave a commitment to Bush?
“The only commitment I gave was a commitment to deal with Saddam. That wasn’t a private commitment, it was a public commitment,” replies Blair.
But, says Prashar, do you think you gave him any commitments?
10.30am: He says “the principal part of my conversation [with Bush] was really to try and say look, in the end, we’ve got to deal with various different dimensions of this whole issue… I wanted to a persuade president Bush and get a sense from him on where he was…”
There was “nothing actually decided” in the Crawford meeting with Bush, he says. The purpose of Crawford, Blair says, was to find out what the Americans wanted to do and make our own strategy.
10.25am: Just been told that the inquiry may take a while to upload those documents onto the website. Ho hum.
Blair replies Iraq was an appalling regime and “we could not allow such a regime to develop WMD.” Britain wanted to deal with Iraq’s WMD and, if that meant regime change, so be it.
10.20am: Baroness Prashar takes up the baton. Questioning becomes a little more vigorous. She wants to know about the preparations for the Crawford meeting – April 2002 – with Bush. She cites Alastair Campbell’s diaries that Blair told prior Chequers meeting, held to brief Blair ahead of Crawdord, it was about “regime change in part”.
10.17am: Whoo.. Chilcot reveals the government declassified two documents last night. One is now going to go up…
Sir Rod does not look impressed.
“I did not use the words regime change in that interview and did not in any sense mean to change the basis,…” says Blair. It was in no sense “a change of that position, which was a breach of UN resolutions on WMD… That was the cause [of war] and it remains”
He’s interrupted by Sir Rod – who disagrees on the timing.
“This was an interview… that was given some weeks before your inquiry began”
10.14am: He is asked about the recent Fern Britton TV interview in which Blair said he would have thought it right to go to war even if he had know Iraq had not had WMD:
“For me the issue was very very simple. It was about the need to make absolutely clear that from now on you did not defy the international community on WMD.”
10.07am: Sir Rod tackles him on a speech he gave in Texas (at the Crawford summit) and regime change. “The absolutely key issue was the WMD issue.” Had to send powerful and clear message that, if you were engaged in WMD, you had to stop.
10.04am: There were a range of views, says TB, some people said you must not act, others that it was time to act (He cites Tories and Lib Dems, not cabinet). “Not as if we weren’t getting full range of views… the trouble was we had to take a decision. My decision was we could not allow this to go on…” he says. How we dealt with that was an open question.
Sir Rod quizzes him about a March 2001 paper on smart sanctions – and cabinet discussion of it. Was there any? TB admits “we didn’t discuss the options paper specifcally” in cabinet, but we had discussions again and again about the options – including removal of Saddam.
10am: Mr Blair says a now declassified document described containment as a “least worst option”. “Smart sanctions” were discussed by government, but there was “no guarantee” these would work.
9.52am: Politics Home survey shows 29% of voters see the war as Blair’s personal responsibility.
52% agreed with the statement that ‘The Iraq inquiry is largely a waste of time and taxpayers’ money
TB emphasises 9/11 was a game changer on Iraq. If it hadn’t happened, the perceived risk Saddam posed would have been the same. ”After September 11, our view, the American view, changed dramatically.”
He says ”calculus of risk” regarding Saddam changed after September 11. Uptil then, we thought Saddam was a risk, but did our best to contain that risk.
TB looks slick, smart and tanned. Red tie, blue suit, white shirt. Speaking very deliberately.
9.40am: Blair asked by Sir Roderic Lyne how he saw Saddam containment strategy.
9.36am: Sir John Chilcot goes through the formalities. Says will centre questioning on: 1. Evolution of strategy towards Iraq upto 2002 (including meetings with Bush). 2. Later diplomacy in 2003. 3. Planning for invasion, aftermath of the war. 4. Deterioration of security in Iraq and high levels of violence upto 2007. 5. Britain’s strategic direction.
9.33am: They’re off. Blair takes his seat
9.32am: So, what was the deal with Bush? Did TB pressure officials on the intelligence? Why did it all go so wrong?
9.30am: We’re waiting. Any minute now
By the way, Alex has been promised a ringside seat for the first 90 minutes before he’s booted back into the press room. Sadly, he can’t blog from
inside, but will fill us in on the atmosphere as soon as he’s out again.
9.28am: From Alex: “We definitely won’t be seeing the Bush-Blair letters today. The Inquiry tell us that they’ve had some requests for some unspecified documents turned down (it is not a big leap to imagine they are referring to the letters). There will be an appeal. But it seems unlikely at this point that the Sir Gus O’Donnell, the cabinet secretary, will give way, particularly after the pressure of Blair’s appearance abates.”
9.25am: Not long now. Our own Alex Barker in today’s FT warns that many of TB’s answers will be all too familiar. More telling will be the detailed cross-excamination (the first Mr Blair has undergone in public) of his style of government. And this quote from Lord Turnbull, former cabinet secretary, on the UK’s role as junior partner in the war: “This is the sort of key lesson: don’t get into a position where you have responsibility and accountability but you don’t have power…”
These are the three personal letters between the two leaders that remain classified. Surprised by the DTel line. Would expect Chilcot will want to ask about what pledges Blair made to Bush – especially after Sir Christopher Meyer, former US ambassador, told it a commitment to to use all means necessary to disarm Saddam might have been “signed in blood” at their Crawford summit in 2002.
9.18am: The Telegraph opts for safer ground, telling us what won’t be happening. TB will “not be questioned about secret letters he sent to President George W. Bush before the invasion of Iraq when he gives evidence…”
Classic Grauniad intro. More than 50 words long.
The Guardian takes a different line to The Times. He is “…expected to deliver a robust defence of his decision to take Britain into war with Iraq, arguing that even though Sadddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction, he could have been emboldened to build them had the UK and US backed down from the threat of military force.”
9.14am: Sky showing pictures now of scores of protestors outside the QE2: banners read ”Jail Tony” and “Blair Lied”.
“A close ally said that Mr Blair ‘thinks about these decisions he made six or seven years ago every day – it will always be there…”
“Mistakes? I made a few: contrite Blair expected to admit ‘errors of of execution” says the headline.
Right, quick buzz through the papers. The Times is a vacuum filled by Tom Baldwin and the invisible hand of Alastair Campbell:
9.08am: I read he slipped in by the back entrance – much to the disgust of early bird protestors.
“The word is that Tony Blair entered the building around 7am. The gaggles of paparazzi that have been watching the entrances like hawks insist that the only car to have come through had no one in the back seat. If he has made it through, he’s either strolled through a secret back door or idden in the boot.”
“All the press are packed in a cavernous room surrounded by screens. Many of them have seen Blair too many times before to expect a gotcha moment. In the words of one seasoned hack sitting next to me, there is “a mounting sense of anti-climax”.”
Most are touting the usual Blair war-criminal placards. There was one welcome exception: a group spritely cheerleaders in micro-shorts. No, Tony, I’m afraid they are not here to give you support. They appeared to be waving their pompoms to the beat of questions the panel should confront the former prime minister with, although it was hard to hear for the crowd of male onlookers. Garry Gibbon of Channel 4 did manage to take a snap (link to his blog should be up soon.)”
“Just arrived at the Queen Elizabeth Conference centre. Had expected it to be besieged by anti-war protesters. But the drizzle seems to have put off most of them. A thousand hardy souls have turned up but they are dangerously close to being outnumbered by the police.”
This just in from Alex:
Sorry, Blair Live. Six hours of being spun like a top – and none the wiser at the end of it. Just like Ally’s lobby briefings. Ah… the good old days.
9am: Welcome to Bliar Live
The page should refresh automatically. Click here for live video stream.
Chris Adams, former political hack turned news editor, and Alex Barker, our man on the spot, will be your guides.
On Friday, we’ll be covering Tony Blair’s appearance in full. Yep, in full. All six hours of it, starting at 9.30am. We’ll be online a little earlier to whiz through the papers and what people are saying.
Hi. This post will be the FT’s live blog from inside – and outside – the Iraq inquiry.