/ 30 March 2012

Blair ‘misled’ public over Iraq invasion

A former Cabinet minister has accused Tony Blair of deliberately misleading his colleagues and the public over a dispute central to the government’s decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Clare Short, former Labour international development secretary, told an information tribunal that Blair and his close advisers misrepresented the French position on the need for a new UN resolution backing war.

“The French made a second [UN] resolution impossible — that was the story. That was clearly, deliberately, misleading the French position,” Short said.

The foreign office is trying to overturn a decision by Christopher Graham, the information commissioner, to disclose records of a conversation between Blair and George Bush about the UN and the French position, days before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Disclosing the evidence was “fantastically important for the people of Britain and the historical record”, Short told the tribunal.

The tribunal heard that Blair claimed that in a television interview on March 10 2003, the French president, Jacques Chirac, said France would veto any new UN resolution backing war. This enabled Blair to argue before his cabinet, parliament and the British public that the UK could go to war with no further UN backing because of French opposition.

Rejecting resolution
The tribunal heard on Thursday that what Chirac actually said was that France would reject a new pro-war resolution at that particular moment since the UN weapons inspectors had not been given enough time to carry out their mission in Iraq.

In a passage ignored by Downing Street, Chirac said: “It will be for the Security Council and it alone will decide the right thing to do. But in that case, of course, regrettably, the war would become inevitable. It isn’t today”.

Short told the tribunal: “It is my view that without the mispresentation of the French position, the position of the prime minister was untenable”.

She appeared for Stephen Plowden, a private individual who made the initial freedom of information request and is demanding disclosure of the entire record of the March 2003 conversation between Blair and Bush.

The information commissioner has described the material he says should be disclosed as a record of a “key conversation between Mr Blair and President Bush with regard to a foreign policy decision of almost unparalleled magnitude”.

James Eadie QC, for the FO, told the tribunal that in law claims that parliament, as opposed to the Cabinet, was misled would be inadmissible as evidence. The hearing under the tribunal judge, Professor John Angel, reserved its ruling. —