Tony Blair kept Cabinet in the dark over Iraq 'deliberately' as ministers evaluated case for war in 2003

Lord Butler suggests former Prime Minister excluded members of the Government from the decision-making process

Whitehall Editor

Members of Tony Blair’s Cabinet were “deliberately” excluded from seeing key documents drawn up by officials examining the case for war against Iraq, a former head of the Civil Service has claimed.

Lord Butler, who led the Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction in the aftermath of the invasion, said there was no shortage of “very good” information available to help ministers evaluate the case for war in 2003.

But in remarks to a Foreign Office seminar, Lord Butler suggested that the former Prime Minister had intentionally kept the documents away from the majority of the Cabinet. “A lot of very good official papers were prepared,” he said. “None was ever circulated to the Cabinet, just as the Attorney General’s advice [on the legality of the war] was not circulated to the Cabinet.

“So, the Cabinet was not as well-informed as the three leading protagonists: the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary and the Foreign Secretary... I think that was deliberate, and it was a weakness of the machinery that underlay that particular decision.”

Lord Butler’s comments, unearthed by Civil Service World magazine, are significant because, while he has previously criticised Mr Blair’s style of “sofa government”, he has not suggested a deliberate intention to exclude wider members of the Government from the decision-making process.

Although Lord Butler was no longer Cabinet Secretary at the time of the Iraq war, he chaired the independent Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction in 2004 and remains in close contact with senior civil servants who were working in Whitehall at the time.

Lord Butler added that his understanding was that Mr Blair used presentations to summarise briefings on Iraq to the wider Cabinet. But he said he did not think these were a satisfactory substitute for access to full documentation. 

“There were a lot of PowerPoint presentations, which is not nearly as good,” he said.

He later added: “One of my greatest criticisms of the Blair government was what I felt was a decline of collective decision-making.”

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