Blair to launch defiant defence of Iraq conflict

By Andrew Grice
Thursday 04 March 2004 01:00

Tony Blair will come out fighting against critics of the Iraq war tomorrow when he makes an unscheduled speech defending his actions before, during and since the conflict.

The Prime Minister had not intended to make another big speech on Iraq and had hoped the issue would fade as the Government switched the political focus back to domestic issues. But he has been forced into a U-turn by the collapse of the court case against Katharine Gun, the GCHQ whistleblower, Clare Short's allegations that Britain spied on the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, and Tuesday's suicide bombings on a holy day in Iraq.

Mr Blair's decision is recognition that the Government has failed to "move on" from the conflict, which has repeatedly returned to haunt him. There has been debate in his inner circle about how to draw a line under the affair, with some advisers saying he should try to clear the air by "going back to first principles" to justify military action.

Close colleagues insist Mr Blair will not be saying "sorry" in tomorrow's speech, which is likely to take place in his Segdefield constituency. While acknowledging that many people do not agree with him, he is said to be "unrepentant" about the war and convinced that history will prove the US and Britain right for removing Saddam Hussein. Mr Blair will point to the wider benefits - such as Libya's decision to give up its weapons of mass destruction.

Aides concede that Mr Blair may need a new line over the failure to find WMD in Iraq but he may decide to delay this until the inquiry into Britain's intelligence reports in July.

Mr Blair is expected to stick to his refusal to publish the full legal advice of Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, which authorised the war. Ministers have denied that the Gun case was dropped because the full advice would have emerged in court and revealed doubts about the legal basis for military action.

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