Tony Blair should admit defeat on the issue of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and use the opportunity of the Hutton report this week to set the record straight, Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, said yesterday.
Mr Cook, who quit the Cabinet in protest on the eve of the Iraq war, made his call after David Kay, the chief weapons inspector in Iraq, stepped down and said there were no WMD stockpiles to be found in Iraq. His successor as head of the Iraq Survey Group is Charles Duelfer, who recently said that there were "probably not" illegal weapons in Iraq. However, since his appointment, he has stressed that he is keeping an open mind.
"It is becoming really rather undignified for the Prime Minister to continue to insist he was right all along when everybody can now see he was wrong," Mr Cook said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "I have always believed the difficulty was not that Tony was behaving in a way which was deceiving the world. He was behaving in a way which had a missionary zeal, an evangelical certainty."
Mr Blair had to concede there had been mistakes, "maybe in all good faith", Mr Cook added. He suspected, however, that Downing Street knew by the start of the war that the WMD case was "over-egged", and took part to show George Bush he had a reliable ally. "That is not a good basis on which to run British foreign policy."
At the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland, the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, called Mr Kay "an experienced inspector" who had worked with the UN before. "I think ... what he says should be taken seriously," said Mr Annan.
Yesterday, however, both the White House and Downing Street refused to give ground.
A spokesman for Downing Street said: "There is still more work to be done, and we should await the conclusion of that work."
In a speech made in Davos, aimed at healing some of the divisions with Europe caused by Iraq, the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney - the source of some of the most alarmist statements on WMD and Iraq's alleged links with terrorism - still insisted that the world's democracies must send an "unmistakable message" that "the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction only invites isolation and carries great costs".
In the US, unlike in Britain, the main political cost is from the bloody aftermath of the war. Yesterday Iraqi insurgents killed five US soldiers and four Iraqis in three separate attacks. Dozens more were injured.