Shocking, shoddy and shameful: Short's verdict on Blair's campaign to win backing for war

Former ministers rail against Blair for sidelining his Cabinet and misusing intelligence - a charge echoed in Washington
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Clare Short launched a devastating attack yesterday on the "collapse in decision-making" at the heart of Tony Blair's government.

The former Secretary of State for International Development accused Tony Blair of sidelining the Foreign Secretary and the Cabinet and relying on his close entourage of unelected advisers to take the important decisions in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

She unleashed a tirade against Mr Blair's style of government, accusing him of commissioning no formal discussion papers on the diplomatic option in the run-up to war, and preventing detailed debate on the crisis.

She said: "Things were not decided properly; no records, no papers; in the Prime Minister's study - all informal with a small group of in people."

Ms Short, who threatened to resign in the run-up to war but stayed in the Cabinet and then resigned in the aftermath of action, was scathing about the conduct of Mr Blair, his senior ministers and top officials.

Ms Short said Mr Blair's closest advisers - Alastair Campbell, the director of strategy and communications, Jonathan Powell, the chief of staff, and his advisers Baroness Morgan and Sir David Manning - attended the War Cabinet and made policy in No 10. She told the all-party Commons Foreign Affairs Committee: "I am really shocked by the way these decisions were taken."

The Cabinet Defence and Overseas Policy Committee had not even met in the run-up to war, while discussions around the Cabinet table were mere "updates", she said. She added: "That is quite a collapse in the normal procedures for British decision-making. It was only the close entourage who were really part of this.

"Not having any papers, not considering opinions or diplomatic opinions, I think is very, very poor and shoddy work. It was not what I considered a thorough decision-making discussion and there was no collective decision-making. It is not just on Iraq, it is more generally, on foundation hospitals and top-up fees."

Ms Short's hour-long appearance before the committee was punctuated with jibes at the Prime Minister, accusing him of using "ruses and devices" as part of a campaign of "honourable deception" to persuade colleagues and the public to back war.

Ms Short said Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, had been "helpful" to Downing Street, but warned: "The Foreign Secretary had a close relationship with the Prime Minister and the entourage, but the Foreign Secretary was helpful and went along with these decisions.

"But I think that the decision-making was sucked out of the Foreign Office, which I think is a great pity. There is great expertise in the Foreign Office about the Middle East and these particular issues."

She repeated her claim that Mr Blair and US President George Bush reached a secret agreement as early as September to go to war by the spring, arguing: "I think the Prime Minister said to President Bush 'we will be with you'. He hadn't laid down the conditions needed to bring Britain's influence to bear to temper the US."

She said that by 24 September last year, "senior people in the system said to me that a date had been fixed [for war] some time ago".

Ms Short insisted that there was no other explanation for the decision to deny Hans Blix, the UN chief weapons inspector, more time to continue his work to secure Iraqi disarmament. She said: "The question is why, if Blix was succeeding, his process was truncated? Why? Because we were working to a target date and that date did not give Blix enough time to complete his work."

Ms Short accused ministers of deliberately misrepresenting France's position in the run-up to war to provide justification for war without a second UN Security Council resolution. She said the Government used false claims of links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qa'ida to justify war.

She said profound discussions, such as the decision to go to war, required a "commitment to a higher level of truth" within government, and condemned the Government's two dossiers on Iraq's WMD and a separate document on Saddam's record on human rights as "pretty shoddy pieces of work."

She said: "Their human rights one was pretty shoddy and it was all old material. I must say, I was surprised it was not more forensic."

She said the second report on Saddam's weapons, labelled the "dodgy dossier" after it emerged that parts of it had been lifted from a PhD thesis, was "shameful". She said: "To think that in the run-up to a declaration of war, where people's lives are at stake, to lift a prior PhD thesis and to distort it ... I think it is shocking."

THE CABINET AND 'HALF TRUTHS'

SHORT'S ALLEGATIONS

* Tony Blair was guilty of using ruses and "an honourable deception" to persuade ministers, parliament and the British people of the case for war.

* Number 10 used "a series of half truths and exaggerated risks" to talk up the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

* There was a collapse of the decision-making process at the highest levels of Government as the Prime Minister took key decisions in consultation with his "entourage" rather than Cabinet colleagues.

* None of the raw intelligence on Iraq nor repeated face-to-face briefings by MI6 and the Defence Intelligence Staff seen by Ms Short backed up the Prime Minister's claim that weapons of mass destruction could be deployed "within 45 minutes".

* MI6 concluded that Iraq's weapons were "a risk, but the risk of use was not high".

* The February "dodgy dossier" was a "shameful piece of work"

* The Cabinet had no full discussion of the options in the run-up to war, no options papers were prepared and the Cabinet; "very, very poor and shoddy work".

* The Cabinet Defence and Overseas Policy committee never met to discuss the Iraq crisis.

* The Foreign Office was "sucked out" of the decision to go to war.

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