Tony Blair faced repeated calls to apologise to Iain Duncan Smith yesterday after claiming that intelligence upon which the "dodgy dossier" was based had been shared with the Conservatives.
In a series of strongly worded letters, the Tory leader urged Mr Blair to withdraw his "false allegation" and demanded an apology. But a stand-off developed when the Prime Minister insisted on the veracity of his comments and refused to withdraw them.
The war of words was sparked by comments made by Mr Blair at Prime Minister's Questions, during which he told MPs that "intelligence upon which we based both the September dossier and that February briefing was specifically shared with him by our intelligence services".
When the Conservative leader's requests for an apology were refused, he issued a letter urging Mr Blair to retract his comments and check his records. "You said that the intelligence on which the dossier was based was intelligence that was specifically shared with me. That is completely untrue," he wrote.
Mr Duncan Smith said he had met the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee on 18 September in connection with the dossier that month. But he said he learnt about the February document from newspapers and did not meet the JIC until after its publication.
He wrote: "If you check your records, you will find that immediately I read about the February document in the newspapers, I caused a telephone call to be made to your office asking for the basis of this document. I had no prior knowledge whatsoever of its contents or the material on which it was based. Furthermore, if you check your records, you will find that the last time I saw the head of the JIC was on 18 September, 2002 just before the publication of the first dossier. I did not see him again until 12 February, 2003, nine days after the second dossier was published."
He added: "At no time was I given an oral briefing on the second dossier by the intelligence services prior to its publication. Will you now withdraw this false allegation and apologise without delay?"
Mr Blair replied that he stood by his comments, having checked the details with John Scarlett, chairman of the JIC, who confirmed that the Tory leader had been briefed on 18 September. He also referred to Mr Duncan Smith's briefing on 12 February, in which intelligence was included in the briefing paper.