Day of reckoning: Blair's future may hang on testimony

When he steps into court 73 at the Royal Courts of Justice at 10.30 this morning, Tony Blair knows that his future as Prime Minister could hinge on the next couple of hours.

His lines have been well-rehearsed during and since his family holiday at the Barbados villa of Sir Cliff Richard, which was eclipsed by the long shadow of the Hutton inquiry. Even if Lord Hutton does not cast a permanent shadow of blame over the Prime Minister in his report, his inquiry has already shone an unwelcome searchlight into the murky corners of the Blair regime.

Whatever Mr Blair's involvement in the events leading to the death of a government scientist, the process has dangerously eroded the public's trust in the Prime Minister. The implications for his political future go well beyond Lord Hutton's verdict. Close allies of Mr Blair are confident that the former barrister will comfortably survive his unexpected day in court. "He will emerge as clean as a whistle," one optimist said. Aides recalled that, on previous "big games", Mr Blair had "played a blinder".

Arguably, Mr Blair has had plenty of training. At his monthly press conferences, journalists have barely laid a glove on him. His decision to appear before a Commons select committee has not troubled him either. Mr Blair is the original master of not answering the question. The press are not allowed follow-ups, allowing him to move on quickly. But today may well be tougher. Perhaps he will meet his match in James Dingemans QC, counsel to the inquiry, who will be able to ask as many questions as he wants.

For Mr Blair, the stakes could hardly be higher. Today's appearance has been inevitable since the moment on 18 July when he was told on his Boeing 777 over the Pacific that David Kelly had disappeared from his Oxfordshire home. The triumph of Mr Blair's address to both Houses of Congress was over; tragedy was confirmed a few hours later. The smiling Prime Minister who boarded the plane in Washington was shaken and grey by the time he disembarked in Toyko.

Four days later, on a flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong, Mr Blair uttered the words he may live to regret to a scrum of journalists. Asked whether he had authorised the leaking of Dr Kelly's name, he replied: "Emphatically not. I did not authorise the leaking of the name of David Kelly."

The e-mails, memos and letters emerging at the inquiry now suggest otherwise. One telling note by Sir David Omand, the security and intelligence co-ordinator, is headed: "Meetings in the Prime Minister's study, 7 and 8 July 2003." These took the fateful decisions that Dr Kelly would appear before the Foreign Affairs Committee and to issue a statement that an official had come forward to say he had met the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan.

Downing Street's strategy of saying that the Ministry of Defence was the "lead department" has been undermined by the weight of evidence submitted to the inquiry. It suffered further damage yesterday, when Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, proved reluctant to take on the role of fall guy and sacrificial lamb.

Blair aides now wish they had called a truce in the battle with the BBC. Of course they would never have pursued it if they could have foreseen the consequences. But there was one man who could have called off the attack dogs. It wasn't Alastair Campbell, the chief rottweiler. It was Mr Blair.

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?