Simon Carr: Another witness is let off the hook


"Prime Minister, we will be asking you later to show how incomparably better Iraq is now, and also about the qualities that have been called forth over the period in question, strength and courage of course and also a mastery of the detail that goes beyond normal human understanding." John Chilcot didn't quite say this, but on we go anyway.

"... and that you always and in all circumstances did the right thing for the right reasons, but first perhaps, if you feel it would help the committee, would you like to start with your human side?"

The Prime Minister had a good day. He had learned the lessons of the war. The first was that you have to get your apology in first. People had died, and that was sad. "Any loss of life is very sad indeed," he confirmed. Later he told us, a little crookedly, "My sympathies go out to people who have questions to be answered." Nearly every time he said this sort of thing he remembered not to smile. The committee was susceptible – rather more than the audience members he tried to engage during one of the breaks. They snubbed him, reports have it. Ignored his overtures. Maybe they had some private reason.

He got his key messages out (see above). No request for war funds had ever been turned down, that was "a fundamental truth". The committee didn't ask him why so many witnesses had said something else (the lack of body armour, the right vehicles and helicopters had cost lives). "I made it clear that every application for equipment had to be approved," he said. Perhaps if Geoff Hoon and his permanent secretary had been quoted then he could have savaged them.

The committee skated over that and other areas that might have detained him. He said the French were going to veto a second resolution "whatever the circumstances" (not true). He didn't seem to have much to say in the way of a "growing threat" over the summer of 2002. And as for his description of the way the British army left Basra – that was, as Chilcot might have described it in his kindly way, "counterfactual".

Brown's basic rationale for going to war – rupturing the western alliance and shattering the authority of the UN – was to strengthen the solidarity of "the world community". It was a marvellously self-defeating exercise then. It was odd this didn't get the committee going.

Mind you, he had appointed it. Maybe that had something to do with it.