Blair lied and silenced opposition, inquiry told


FORMER BRITISH prime minister Tony Blair lied repeatedly to the cabinet and silenced opposition in the run-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003, former minister Clare Short told the Iraq Inquiry yesterday.

Ms Short, who served as international development secretary until she quit in May 2003, claimed that the then attorney general, Peter Goldsmith, had misled colleagues because he failed to tell them of his doubts about the war’s legality.

On the day when the attorney general finally “gave the green light” for invasion, she was “jeered at” by other ministers, Ms Short said, and told to “be quiet” by Mr Blair when she tried to question Lord Goldsmith’s advice.

The former minister has been no friend of Mr Blair’s. Former communications chief Alastair Campbell said she was excluded from top-level discussions because she could not be trusted.

Her department’s performance was strongly criticised by other elements of government and by the military for its performance after the invasion, and during the efforts to rebuild Iraq.

However, the Iraq Inquiry did publish letters written in early March 2003 by Ms Short when she warned Mr Blair that she needed more money for the work and that the Americans were woefully ill-prepared.

During her evidence, Ms Short insisted that normal cabinet government had broken down under Mr Blair, with papers not being circulated to ministers and discussion limited to “cosy chats” between only trusted figures.

She had tried to quit cabinet along with the late Robin Cook before the war began, she said, but was persuaded to stay by Mr Blair, who said he had got US president George W Bush to take more interest in the Palestinians and to give the United Nations a bigger role in Iraq.

Two months later, she realised that she had been “conned” when she saw the text of a “feeble” UN resolution approving aid for Iraq that had been piloted through by the British and Americans.

Ms Short became the second witness to the inquiry to be applauded as she left. There was vocal support last week for former foreign office lawyer Elizabeth Wilmhurst, who was the only anti-war official to quit their job in protest.

Mr Blair’s successor in No 10 Downing Street, Gordon Brown, had been “very unhappy and marginalised” in the weeks before the war, fearing he would be sacked in a reshuffle if the war was a success, she said.

“Gordon Brown was pushed out and marginalised at the time and was having cups of tea with me and saying ‘Tony Blair is obsessed with his legacy and he thinks he can have a quick war and then a reshuffle’,” Ms Short said.

“He was worried about other things beyond Iraq. He would say on Iraq, ‘We must uphold the UN’, and I would say, ‘I agree, but are we going to do it that way?’ and then he would talk about other issues that were worrying him.”

However, she said Mr Blair and Mr Brown were “reconciled” in the weeks before the war was launched. “By then, Gordon was back in with Tony, back in blaming the French. It was all different. No more cups of coffee.”