Blair froze out Iraq war dissenters

Tony Blair froze out anyone with concerns about the Iraq war and was not challenged on the issue by a Cabinet that had been "conditioned" to accept that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, the Iraq inquiry has been told.

Lord Turnbull, who as Cabinet Secretary was Britain's most senior civil servant, said that Mr Blair largely surrounded himself with those who would not disagree with him, while those who did have concerns were given almost no time to discuss the issue.

Meanwhile No 10 rejected calls to publish secret letters sent to President George Bush from Mr Blair in 2002 which suggested that Britain would join the US in military action if it was needed. Gordon Brown also rebuffed calls to voluntarily appear at the inquiry before the next election.

In his evidence, Lord Turnbull said Mr Blair wanted to "move quickly" and kept debate to a minimum. "There was never any opportunity seriously to say 'Iran is the real problem' or 'Korea is the real problem' or whatever. Certainly by September 2002 that decision had been made," he said. Lord Turnbull said that with the exception of Robin Cook, who resigned after the decision to invade Iraq, "none of [the Cabinet] suggested a serious change of direction... They were all conditioned to buy the intelligence presentations."

He said that Mr Blair had been a "regime changer" from the outset, but felt obliged to seek UN permission for the invasion.

Other secret documents released yesterday revealed the extent of doubts within the military over the legality of the invasion without a second UN resolution. Sir Kevin Tebbitt, the most senior civil servant in the Ministry of Defence, wrote to Lord Turnbull to say that "full UN cover" was "devoutly to be desired" to resolve the legal question-marks. That never came.

The Prime Minister said he had "nothing to hide", but refused calls from both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats to appear before the inquiry ahead of the election. "If the inquiry has any questions for the Government it is for them to put them to the Government," his spokesman said.