Under intense questioning this morning (21 January), Tony Blair has failed to confirm that his cabinet ever made a formal decision to approve the invasion of Iraq. At a hearing of the Chilcot Inquiry, the former Prime Minister avoided repeated questions on the issue, fuelling the belief that he made the decision alone and pushed other ministers into it.
Tony Blair is being questioned for the second time by the formal inquiry into the UK's involvement in the Iraq war. He has been recalled after a string of witnesses gave evidence which contradicted his own.
Peaceful protesters have gathered outside the hearing in central London, calling for Tony Blair to be tried for war crimes.
Roderick Lyme, a member of the inquiry panel, asked, “Would an ordinary cabinet member... really have been aware [in September 2002] that he or she was effectively taking collective responsibility for... military action against Iraq?”
Blair responded by saying that ministers must have been aware of it, given all the reports in the media. Critics are likely to say that ministers should not have to read newspapers in order to know government policy.
Lyme insisted that, “What isn't clear is at what point you were actually asking the cabinet to make decisions". Blair several times repeated his assertion that the cabinet knew that military action was being considered.
Lyme said that he could not tell when Blair and the cabinet had made a formal decision, rather than keeping options open. Blair replied sharply “I wasn't keeping my options open”.
Lyme also asked if it would have helpful to involve more ministers in discussions about Iraq in the lead-up to the invasion.
Blair replied, “In one sense I'd like to say yes, because in a way it would be an easy enough concession to make. My honest belief is that it would not have made a great deal of difference.” He added, I had the right people there”.
Blair made the suprising claim that “Nobody was saying I should do this in a different way. If there was, I would have listened to it.”
The former Prime Minister appeared extremely nervous and increasingly angry during the exchange. He interrupted Roderick Lyme several times and repeatedly removed his glasses before putting them back on.