Iraq Inquiry

Welcome back. The FT’s Westminster team is reporting live on former prime minister Tony Blair’s appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq warThis post will automatically refresh every three minutes,  although it may take longer on mobile devices.

Read our earlier post here.

1411 Details are emerging from the room. The atmosphere was obviously more fraught than it appeared on telly. The mood changed as soon as Blair started talking tough on Iran. People began to fidget more and sigh. Then when Blair expressed regrets about the loss of life in Iraq, a woman shouted: “Well stop trying to kill them.” Two women stood up and walked out; another audience member turned her back on Blair and faced the wall. As Blair began to leave the room, one audience member shouted “It is too late”, another said “he’ll never look us in the eye”. Then Rose Gentle, who lost her son in Iraq,delivered the final blow. “Your lies killed my son,” she said. “I hope you can live with it.”

1402 That’s it folks. We’re winding up. Chilcot has thanked the audience. A calmer and slightly more contrite performance from Tony Blair, but no less assured than his first appearance before the inquiry. The main difference has been the Chilcot panel’s approach — much more detailed questions, much more forensic and at times incredibly boring. They are clearly close to the end of writing the report and are relatively settled on the conclusions, which will not make pleasant reading for Blair. Read more

Jim Pickard

Good morning. The Westminster team is reporting live on former prime minister Tony Blair’s appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war.

12.30: We are now taking another coffee break. Alex will be your host when delivery returns in about 10 minutes’ time. You’ll need to go back to ft.com/westminster and open a new window – ie Iraq inquiry part two.

In the meantime here are some quotes from this morning’s inquiry which will no doubt make the news later.

* Blair told his chief of staff a year before the war with Iraq that the UK “should be gung-ho on Saddam”.

* “Up to September 11, we had been managing this issue. After September 11, we decided we had to confront and change.”

* “There are people who say that extremism can be managed. I personally don’t think that’s true.”

* On his Iraq policy in 2002: “I wasn’t keeping my options open. I was setting out a policy that was very very clear.”

* He said the cabinet was aware of his policy: “Go down UN route, get an ultimatum. If he fails to take the ultimatum, we’re going to be with America on military action.”

* “We were probably the most successful centre left government in the world.”

* “I was raising issues to do with Somalia…the Middle East peace process…Lebanon. My view was that this was all part of one issue, in the end. You couldn’t deal with it sequentially.”

* The nature of Saddam’s regime in Iraq was not a justification for going to war – “but it is why we should be proud to have got rid of him”.

* “I didn’t see September 11 as an attack on America, I saw it as an attack on us – the West. I told George Bush – ‘Whatever the political heat, if I think this is the right thing to do, I’m going to be with you.’”

* “When the military pressure was off, he was going to be back, and with far more money. If we had left Saddam there, I think it’s arguable he might have been developing in competition with Iran.”

12.25: Blair has argued that he wanted to get a majority of the UN security council, even if he could not get unanimous support. Sir Lawrence Freedman asked if Blair stopped the UN weapons inspection process just at the crucial point when it was starting to reap dividends. Blair sidesteps the question, saying Saddam was “back to his old games”. Freedman ponders whether a few more weeks may have made a difference?

Blair says Saddam may have made a few more concessions but his overall stance would not have changed – it was still a mistake to leave the dictator in place, he insists. Read more

What a blast from the past. The recall of various witnesses — including Tony Blair — to the Iraq inquiry is a gentle reminder to those who may have forgotten that the Iraq Inquiry goes on. Indeed, the surprise highlights that the Iraq Inquiry is — rightly or wrongly — facing something of an existential crisis.

There are several convincing reasons for thinking the report is drifting towards irrelevance. The political fizz has gone since Labour lost the election. The national security council has been formed, the defence review is over, and the big spending decisions have been taken. The inquiry may have missed the boat. At worst, it will be an expensive and time consuming means of passing judgement on yesterday’s men. Read more

Jim Pickard

I spent a couple of hours at the Chilcot inquiry yesterday where Hans Blix was talking.

Like many people, I had understood that Blix thought Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction in early 2003 – encouraged by headlines such as this one in January: Hanx Blix warned Tony Blair Iraq may not have WMD.

The Blix position is in fact much more nuanced.

Yesterday he said he told Tony Blair one month before the Iraq invasion that he thought Saddam Hussein may still have illegal weapons in spite of his growing doubts on the matter. Read more

Kiran Stacey

The government manages to hold three positions on the legality of invading Iraq

The government manages to hold three positions on the legality of invading Iraq

When Nick Clegg stood at the despatch box today and accused Jack Straw of being partly to blame for the “illegal invasion of Iraq”, you could almost see his Tory colleagues behind him wince.

Clegg had said this many times before, and it has long been the party’s official position (although it has never been approved by the full Lib Dem conference, so can’t be described as “policy”). But of course, it has never been the Tories’ position. Having voted for the invasion, the party still thinks it was legal.

Number 10 was quick to tell reporters this afternoon that Clegg was speaking “in a personal capacity”. But if he wasn’t articulating the government’s position, what is the government’s position? Read more

Jim Pickard

Carne Ross, a former British official to the UN*, offered his controversial testimony to the Chilcot inquiry today – and it makes uncomfortable reading for the government of the time.

In his written evidence, Ross said he believed the government had “intentionally and substantially exaggerated” its assessment of Iraq’s capabilities ahead of the 2003 invasion. For example, he revives the point that Iraq was officially thought to have “up to 12” Scud missles – which became “up to 20” in the September dossier.

Ross also highlights flaws in a paper sent to the Parliamentary Labour Party by then foreign secretary Jack Straw to drum up support from MPs. Read more

Some interesting names on the latest list of witnesses to the Iraq inquiry.

The Lord Prescott will be making an appearance to (presumably) explain his role in cabinet. It should make for good viewing.

Hans Blix, the weapons inspector, will have a chance to rebut some of the criticisms thrown at him by the likes of Jack Straw.

Baroness Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5, may shed some light on the official advice given over whether the invasion of Iraq would increase or decrease the threat of terrorism in Britain.

Another name that stood out is Carne Ross, a ex-FCO official who served at the UN. He’ll be the most junior former official to speak out against the mishandling of the build-up to war.

The most intriguing detail is surely the absence of Tony Blair’s name from the list. This, I’m told, does not preclude a re-appearance on the witness stand. The panel clearly want to speak to all their witnesses at least once, before they start recalling old stars.

Here is the list in full: Read more

Now if you thought the first half of Gordon Brown’s Iraq inquiry testimony was turgid, just wait for what is to come.

The charge facing Brown is that he slashed the helicopter budget in 2004. It is a toxic political issue that has a direct impact on Afghan operations today. It should be fascinating. But I fear what you’ll get is a deluge of arcane detail about “resource accounting”, something even senior Whitehall officials struggle to understand.

When confronted with this wall of accounting babble, it’s tempting to imagine that the politician must be wrong. But, in this case at least, blaming Brown alone a bit unfair. He has a reasonably strong defence. Read more

Sir Rod made is made a decent go of pressing Gordon Brown on why inspectors were not given more time. His three main points are:

1) The French told us after the infamous Chirac interview that they were not planning to veto a resolution in more circumstances, they just wanted more time. Read more

Gordon Brown’s testimony will be all to familiar to any journalist who has had the privilege to interview him. Rather than open up, Brown has a habit of deciding what he wants to say and repeating it over and over and over again. Nothing diverts him.

In case you’ve missed today’s message, Brown desperately wanted a diplomatic solution to Iraq. Only after the French blocked this at the very last moment did war become necessary. International law needs to be upheld and so the Iraq war was justified. Read more

Gordon Brown has just admitted to a very interesting meeting with Blair, around eight or nine months before the outbreak of war in March 2003.

Brown said that “early on” he met with Tony Blair and assured him that he would “not rule out” any military action on the grounds of cost. “Quite the opposite,” Brown said. Read more

1) What did you do in the war, chancellor?

It is remarkable that since 2003 Gordon Brown has never really given a full account of role in the build up to war. The committee will press him on all this. Did he have reservations? Why did he not act on them more forcefully etc. This is tricky political territory for Brown, so it’s unlikely that this committee will push too hard. But any insights into his role behind the scenes will be interesting. Read more