Tony Blair: 'I did not lie or mislead the country... but some people will not accept this'

The Prime Minister answers <u>your</u> questions on health, ID cards - and Iraq
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Indy Politics

Why did you state so categorically the case for war when the intelligence was hemmed in with ifs and buts?

Why did you state so categorically the case for war when the intelligence was hemmed in with ifs and buts?

Arthur Johnson, Bradford, West Yorks

All intelligence, by its nature, is incomplete. But as people can see from the evidence in the Butler report, the clear judgement from the Joint Intelligence Committee was that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons and could manufacture more very quickly.

To hear some of my critics talk, you would think I was the only person who believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. I wasn't. Every single member of the Security Council - including those opposed to the war - believed Saddam had WMD. Every intelligence service was telling their governments that Saddam had WMD. The disagreement between us was about what we should do about his clear and long defiance of his UN obligations.

There have been four separate and thorough inquiries into all this, and each has found that I did not lie or deliberately mislead the country over intelligence material. But some people won't accept this, no matter how many inquiries say it.

Why don't you publish the Attorney General's whole legal advice to prove your claim that the Iraq war was legal?

John Chin, Whitfield, Kent (question put before release of the full text)

We have. And it does. But I'm afraid the real arguments have never really been about the legality of the war but about my judgement. I understand this. Many people opposed - some passionately - the decision we took. I respect these views. But I just wish we could have the debate about whether I was right to take the decision I did rather than on my integrity.

The judgement I had to take, given the evidence showing that Saddam was in clear defiance of his UN obligations, was whether we acted to remove him or left him in control of Iraq. I decided that Iraq and the world would be safer with him in prison and not in power. There was no third way. It was an immensely difficult decision. But I took it and stand by it now. I understand why others might have taken a different judgement. But that, of course, would have meant that Saddam and his sons would still be in power, still murdering and persecuting Iraqi citizens and threatening his neighbours, still defying the UN, stronger than ever and with the international community weaker. Not, of course, what those who opposed military action would want, John, but nevertheless the inevitable consequence of such a decision. There was no pain-free solution.

Will you scrap ancestral, holiday working visas etc, which members of the Commonwealth states enjoy at the moment, and instead adopt a points system like Australia's after the election?

Andrew Willis, Wimbledon Park, London

We do want to retain the working holidaymakers scheme for young Commonwealth nationals but will tighten the criteria. It will form part of the fair and transparent points system we will introduce, if re-elected, to ensure we can get the people we need to fill the vacancies in our economy.

You have formed a Christian alliance with President Bush, but how can we support a person who, in world environment terms, is more dangerous than any terrorist organisation?

Pat O'Grady, Chadwell Heath, Essex

There is no Christian alliance. And I have repeatedly made clear my disagreement with the US stance over Kyoto. But I don't think we are going to get very far in tackling the challenge of climate change by abusing the President of the United States. Opposition to Kyoto in America, anyway, goes far beyond the President.

And supporters of Kyoto like myself also realise that the treaty is only a first step. We need to work to get longer-term international agreement on the action needed to stabilise the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And that is what, through our G8 presidency, I am determined to do. I hope we can convince the United States, for example, to support a package of measures to assist the rapidly growing economies such as China and India to develop more sustainably and also to support fast-track research investment into, and application of, new low-carbon technologies.

Why identity cards with compulsory finger-printing? And why do you show no concern about the high level of electoral fraud?

Ann Keith, Grantchester, Cambs

I think ID cards are an important and necessary weapon in tackling crime and terrorism, asylum abuse, benefit fraud and misuse of public services. So do the police. Most other European countries have them. I think their citizens might be bemused by the suggestion from some critics that they are the end of democratic freedoms.

We are making sure that all the relevant authorities keep a very close check on postal voting. Where there is abuse, we will crack down on it hard. But the independent Electoral Commission has said, in general, that they are very satisfied with the arrangements for this election.

Given the strength of feeling over Iraq, wouldn't it have been prudent to step down as leader of the Labour Party?

Helen O'Sullivan, Hertfordshire

No. I know that there are Labour supporters who are going to find it more difficult this time to support us. I am genuinely sorry that is the case. But I am elected as Prime Minister to do what I believe is right - and that is what I did.

I hope those who supported us in 1997 and 2001 consider what will happen if enough Labour supporters stay at home or vote for the Lib Dems or another smaller party in protest. The result won't be your perfect government or even Charles Kennedy as Prime Minister. It will be a Tory MP in your constituency and Michael Howard in Downing Street, with all the pain that will mean for those millions who depend on a Labour government to improve their lives. And no matter what people might think of Iraq, I hope they will look at the progress in their community and towards a fairer society and think seriously about putting it at risk.

The Tories will be trying every cynical trick over the next few days to persuade Labour supporters that they don't have to vote for us because Michael Howard is not going to win. At the same time they will ensure all their supporters in the marginal constituencies do vote. It's a tactic they have imported - along with Lynton Crosby - from Australia. It's worked there. It could work here.

If the justification for the Iraq war was to make the world safer by removing Saddam's weapons, how do you answer the charge that it has made the world more dangerous?

Dr Terence Moore, Cambridge

The reason for military action was Saddam's long defiance of his international obligations. But the alternative to removing Saddam from power would have been to leave him there, stronger and ready, as we now know, to start up his WMD programme as soon as he thought he could get away with it. I honestly don't believe that would have made our world safer.

As a GP, it seems to me that, although things in the NHS that are measured with numbers are getting better, intangibles like the quality of nursing care are getting worse. How can you deal with that?

Steven Loud, Kentish Town, London

Modern nursing is a much more highly skilled job than in the past, but I simply don't believe this means that less attention is given to the needs of patients. The nurses I meet are amazingly dedicated to their job, to their patients and to the NHS. I am not going to pretend that everything in the NHS is perfect, but I do believe the quality of care has improved along with speed of treatment. A series of independent studies have found that, whatever problems are still to be overcome, our NHS is moving strongly in the right direction. But we want to go further and reduce the maximum waiting time to 18 weeks between you referring your patient and their operation. Whether these improvements continue depends upon whether there is a Labour government after 5 May.

Will merging proudly independent regiments undermine the morale of British forces?

Caron Loud, Kentish Town, London

It is the Army itself that is proposing these changes so they can better be ready for the challenges of the future. It will also ensure, by the way, that family life is not so disrupted by frequent tours of duty abroad. But we are aware of the importance of pride in the traditions of regiments and are doing all we can to ensure they are preserved.

Two years ago you stated that we were not turning a blind eye to what is happening in Zimbabwe. What have you done since then to end that despotic regime?

Mike Wilmott, Wiltshire

I get the feeling I can't really win, can I, Mike? Four questions criticising me for acting against a despot. And now this one. We are working with the EU to arrive at a common position on sanctions. Working with the Commonwealth, we have isolated the regime. All this is having an impact on Mugabe. But without agreement and action from Zimbabwe's neighbours in southern Africa, we are restricted in what we can do.

The Blair truth audit

Tony Blair's contradictions over the legal advice in the run-up to the Iraq war are yet another example of the times at which his Iraq statements have been inconsistent, evasive or just plain wrong.

What Blair said: "Tonight, British servicemen and women are engaged from air, land and sea. Their mission: to remove Saddam Hussein from power and disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction." TV address to the nation, 20 March 2003

"I have always said to people throughout that ... our aim has been the elimination of weapons of mass destruction." Press conference, 25 March 2003

The reality: Within days, Mr Blair contradicts himself about the aims of the war.

What Blair said: "But for this military action, Saddam Hussein and his sons would still be in absolute control ... free to continue the repression and butchery of their people." Article in 'News of the World', 16 November 2003

The reality: "Regime change" again becomes a central justification of the conflict.

What Blair said: "You know how passionately I believed in this cause and in the wisdom of the conflict as the only way to establish long-time peace and stability." To British troops in Iraq, 4 January 2004

The reality: No mention of WMD was made on this trip. But with Saddam now in custody and the insurgency in Iraq showing no sign of abating, the PM finds a new reason for the war.

What Blair said: "As for the existence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, there can be no doubt ... that those weapons existed. It is the job of the Iraq Survey Group to find out what has happened, which it will do." House of Commons, 21 January 2004

The reality: Mr Blair uses lawyer's language, ignoring Iraq's claim that the weapons existed, but were destroyed more than a decade ago. His next sentence implicitly acknowledges WMD may never be found.

What Blair said: "We know that he has stockpiles of major amounts of chemical and biological weapons." NBC TV, 3 April 2002

The reality: From early 2002, the PM began to stress claims that Iraq had WMD left over from before the 1991 war without saying that most would have deteriorated to the point of uselessness.

What Blair said: "The Iraq Survey Group has already found massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories, workings by scientists, plans to develop long-range ballistic missiles." On British Forces Broadcasting Service, 16 December 2003

The reality: The Iraq Survey Group had never talked of a "massive" system, and didn't link the laboratories with weapons production or research.

What Blair said: "Resolution 1441 gives the legal basis for this [war]." To the House of Commons, 12 March 2003

The reality: The opposite of his earlier pledge.

What Blair said: "France said it would veto a second resolution whatever the circumstances." To the House of Commons, 18 March 2003

The reality: President Chirac said France would vote against any resolution that authorised force while inspections were still working.

What Blair said: "The oil revenues ... should be put in a trust fund for the Iraqi people administered through the United Nations." To the House of Commons, 18 March 2003

The reality: Britain co-sponsored a UN Security Council resolution that gave the US and UK control of the oil revenues.

What Blair said: "The United Kingdom should seek a new Security Council resolution that would affirm ... the use of all oil revenues for the benefit of the Iraqi people." Commons motion for war, proposed by Tony Blair, 18 March 2003

The reality: Iraq's oil revenues have been used to pay US firms, often at vastly inflated prices.

What Blair said: "I don't run a sofa style of government. There were over 20 cabinet discussions of the Iraq war." Interview with Jeremy Paxman, 20 April 2005

The reality: Lord Butler's inquiry concluded that "the informality and circumscribed character of the Government's procedures, which we saw in the context of policymaking towards Iraq, risks reducing the scope for informed, collective, political judgment."

What Blair said: "It's not a question of changing his mind. The legal advice of the Attorney General was very clear ... The Attorney General came to Cabinet. He was there. We had a discussion at Cabinet about it." Press conference, 25 April 2005

The reality: The brief note that Lord Goldsmith presented to the Cabinet on 17 March contained none of the caveats in his document of 10 days earlier. Clare Short, who was there, has said there was no cabinet discussion.