'Parliament must undo its mistake over Iraq War' - Adam Price


Adam Price was Carmarthen East & Dinefwr's MP between 2001-2010 and now represents the constituency as an Assembly Member

The 2.6 million words of Chilcot – five or less for every life lost as a result of the war – will take some time to digest. But to understand it we also need to know its origins.

The commitment to hold a new inquiry into the Iraq War – despite previous protestations that Hutton, Butler and a brace of Select Committee Reports had already covered the ground – came on the night of October 31st 2006. A Plaid Cymru/SNP motion calling for a fresh inquiry unexpectedly won the support of the Official Opposition plus 12 Labour rebels, including a certain Jeremy Corbyn. The then Defence Secretary Des Browne conceded on Westminster’s College Green that there would be an inquiry after all “when the time was right”. We assumed he meant after the withdrawal of British troops, but maybe he had in mind too the then Prime Minister’s own tactical retreat.

The text that night that wrung the Chilcot concession out of the Government was based on an earlier impeachment motion that began as a cross-party initiative in 2004 which called for a parliamentary inquiry to assess the main charges against Blair. That he misled Parliament. That he entered into a secret agreement to support the War. That he was reckless in the discharge of his duties, not least his duty of care to British service personnel.

Chilcot’s conclusions in all three areas amount to a denunciation, but it’s the question of deception which is central to the case against the then Prime Minister. The report says that Blair repeatedly made false statements: his claim that the intelligence on WMDs was “extensive, detailed and authoritative” was “not an accurate description of the intelligence underpinning the JIC’s assessments”; his statements that the intelligence established “beyond doubt” that Saddam continued to produce chemical and biological weapons and to develop nuclear weapons “went further than the assessments of the JIC”. The intelligence itself wasn’t falsified but it was deliberately “used to prepare material to support Government statements in a way in which conveyed certainty without acknowledging the limitations of the intelligence”.

It was not the case that Blair faithfully represented to the House of Commons the intelligence that was false – as he and his dwindling coterie of acolytes still maintain. He misrepresented the intelligence, making assertions about it that simply were not true. This pattern of repeated falsehood suggests this was not accidental but driven by a conscious underlying motive – winning over wavering public and parliamentary opinion for the then Prime Minister’s war policy. While we cannot build a window into Blair’s mind, less still his soul, at a minimum this litany of deception meets the bar of reckless disregard for the truth that English and Welsh law sets for malicious falsehood.

The investigation envisaged by the original impeachment motion is now completed. The file has been sent to the public prosecutor, which, in this case, is Parliament itself. The House of Commons was duped into supporting an unnecessary and possibly illegal war on a false pretext. As Chilcot argues, this has left a stain on our democracy through a complete collapse of public trust in Government. Iraq’s bitterest legacy may yet be this post-truth era of anti-politics, where every politician and every expert is deemed to be disingenuous. Who can tell if the road to Brexit for some may have begun in the rubble and chaos of Basra and Baghdad. But if leading and misleading become synonymous in citizens’ mind therein lies the road to Hell. There will be other deceptions, perceived or real, that will stoke the flames of public passion to an extent that may eventually consume democracy itself.

Parliament that made this mistake must now undo it by using the tools at its disposal. To mislead the House of Commons is to be guilty of contempt of Parliament as established in the Profumo case over half a century year ago. This modern version of impeachment, if passed on a parliamentary motion, would require the former Prime Minister to stand at the Bar of the House as the indictment was read out. Other sanctions would be available to Parliament as it saw fit – the stripping of a Privy Counsellorship or a symbolic night detained, not at Her Majesty’s pleasure, but Parliament’s Sergeant at Arms. But for many closure will come at the return of the ex-Prime Minister to the scene of the crime, this time not to repeat a self-serving apology withdrawn sliver by sliver over the course of a two hour press conference, but to simply stand silent and alone as history’s verdict is delivered.

This article originally appeared in the Sunday Times on July 10, 2016.

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