The Sketch: As the Prime Minister told me at lunch ... sorry, I really can't say

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The Independent Online

The sketch was a little late into the House for Foreign Office Questions. There's no good asking me where I was, I can't say. Well, of course, I can, but I won't. Matter of honour. Whereof one cannot speak. From the highest level, so don't expect any indiscretions from me!

We've just had the six-month anniversary – a contradiction in terms, hardly the first and certainly not the last – of the Two Towers disaster. Looking back at the Sketch of the time, it was observed that Mr Straw seemed to be laying the groundwork for invading Iraq. Rather a drastic course of action, it was thought, from someone like Jack Straw, and sober counsel, older hands, wiser heads reassured us that this would never happen. Indeed, the Prime Minister told me at lunch – who said that! It wasn't me! Damnation, you tricked it out of me! I'd no idea you were listening! Snooping and eavesdropping! Go away!

To resume. As the Prime Minister said to me at lunch, 200,000 American troops aren't going to land in Iraq tomorrow morning. If I've let the cat out of the bag, I apologise. We had a ragout and fruit salad. It was quite nice.

Lib-Dem David Heath pointed out the dangers of going to war with a disintegrating coalition and asked for compelling evidence of Iraqi complicity in terror activity. Mr Straw responded with a dusty cloud of details of chemical and biological weapons hidden in the desert, and in railway tunnels, the sarin, anthrax and botulins that had been manufactured, the 4,000 tonnes of some terrible agent that was unaccounted for, the 610 tonnes of nerve gas that had gone missing, the 31,000 tonnes of chemical weapons that were threatening us. He seemed more cheerful than he has for a long time, the Foreign Secretary. Preparing for war is good for his career.

These are dark days, suddenly. One must sketch for England.

It's at times like these you want to hear the old guard. Douglas Hogg. Peter Tapsell. Ming Campbell. This last told us how right the Foreign Secretary was to remind us that Iraq had broken 23 United Nations resolutions; but he mentioned also that the Arab world noted how we were keen to apply some resolutions but not others.

Mr Straw indicated that in private, Arab leaders were very worried about Iraq's capacity to destabilise the region – an argument for going in and overthrowing him. The very argument that was made in favour of leaving him in power, as I remember, a decade ago.

Sir Peter Tapsell (who knows all about adventuring in the Middle East – he did Suez) asked under what article of international law we would declare war. He received no reply. That must mean something.

Michael Ancram was more helpful to the Government, declaring robustly that "nothing must be ruled out" as a means of achieving the pacification of Iraq. Nothing? Really nothing?

Junior minister Denis MacShane stood at the despatch box judiciously turning a biro end on end, informing the House of the instructions he had given to the North Korean leadership. Were I not sketching for England I'd give you five paragraphs of what Denis said. I'm surprised they haven't declared war on us themselves.

Simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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