» Tuesday, February 3, 2004

WMD Inquiry

Asked if the Prime Minister believed that Lord Butler had done a satisfactory job investigating Jonathan Aitken when he was Cabinet Secretary given that he was now in charge of the Inquiry into the Iraq war, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the Prime Minister believed that Lord Butler was a distinguished former Cabinet Secretary who during his time within Government would have developed a good knowledge of how intelligence was gathered, assessed and used – all issues which were germane to this Inquiry. Asked if the Prime Minister had any specific thoughts about Lord Butler’s investigation of Jonathan Aitken, the PMOS said that journalists were more than able to give a commentary of events during previous administrations if they so wished.

Asked if following Michael Howard’s comments the inquiry would be allowed to look at the decisions made by the Government on the back of intelligence, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary had both answered that question very clearly today. Obviously there was a difference of view between the Government and one of the other political parties about this. In short what the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and indeed David Kay had said to the Senate was that when there were decisions taken in respect of military conflict, these decisions and judgements were for politicians and for Parliament and could not be sub-contracted to a Committee. Clearly as the remit for the Committee said in the third paragraph: “To make recommendations to the Prime Minister for the future on the gathering and evaluation and the use of intelligence concerning WMD.” Asked if he was saying that Michael Howard was wrong in that case, the PMOS said that what the Foreign Secretary had made clear in the House today, the parallel with the Franks Committee and where their remit had started and finished. People might disagree with it but that was the Government’s view. Put to him that the only question remaining in the wake of the Hutton report was whether the intelligence was flawed, the PMOS said that the journalists should report the Foreign Secretary’s words. Coming off the back of the ISC and the FAC reports what Hutton had made crystal clear was that this discussion and debate could take place without accusations of bad faith or question marks against people’s integrity polluting it.

Asked if, in the light of recent comments by Colin Powell, we would have gone to war if we had known then what we knew now, the PMOS said that journalist should look at all of what David Kay had said. David Kay had said: I think this may be one of those cases where it was even more dangerous than we thought. I think when we have the complete record you’re going to discover that after 1998 it became a regime that was totally corrupt. Individuals were out for their own protection and in a world where we know others are seeking WMD, the likelihood at some point in the future of a seller and a buyer meeting up would have made that a far more dangerous country than even we anticipated with what may turn out not to be a fully accurate estimate.” As the Prime Minister said to the Liaison Committee today, a point we had made repeatedly since the interim report from the ISG came out, what the ISG had already discovered was in breach of 1441. In fact there had been multiple breaches 1441 had spoken of serious consequences following. The Prime Minister continued to believe that the right decision was taken. No one who had heard him in front of the Liaison Committee today could think otherwise. Put to him that 1441 didn’t mention all ‘all necessary means’, the PMOS said that without going over old ground, ‘serious consequences’ hadn’t meant the issuing of another UN resolution. Everybody recognised that. In respect of the UNSCR 1441 itself we should all recognise that that was the considered judgment of every single member of the Security Council. It was not just the UK and the US saying one thing and the other 13 countries saying something else. It had been the collective view that there was a threat and Saddam had international obligations. There may have been some dispute about how that threat was dealt with but there had been was international unity in relation to the nature of the threat.

Asked to clarify the phrase “use by Government”, the PMOS said that what was absolutely clear was that the Committee was not a substitute for Cabinet, for Cabinet Government, for Parliament or the decisions which were taken by elected politicians. Clearly it would look at issues in respect of intelligence and make recommendations to Government on the gathering, evaluation and use of it.

Asked if the Government were concerned that this inquiry would be dogged by controversy given that there was already a difference of interpretation between the main political parties, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had spoken today about the situation in respect of inquiries in terms of certain audiences some people would never be satisfied. Journalists had his words on the record. Clearly there were strongly held views in respect of one of the opposition parties and the remit of this inquiry which could not be reconciled. As the Prime Minister had said, one route would have been to do this through the ISC, but he considered better to expand it to the Franks model and we hoped that people saw that as a desire to be inclusive and to have people taking part who were not simply part of the Parliamentary process. In terms of controversy, would Iraq continue to be a very controversial issue? He had no doubt the answer would be yes and he didn’t think anyone in the room would pretend otherwise.

Asked if the Inquiry would be undermined before it started because the Liberal Democrats wouldn’t come on board, the PMOS said no. What the Prime Minister had wanted to do was make sure there was meaningful discussion with the Opposition Parties before the Inquiry was announced in terms of its remit and makeup. That had happened in the course of yesterday evening. It had become clear that there was a major difference of view between the Government and the Liberal Democrats in terms of its scope. It was apparent over night that that gap was unlikely to be bridged. Asked if the Inquiry still had credibility, the PMOS said yes and if people looked at the composition, then people would see that it was fair and balanced.

Asked if the Prime Minister expected to give evidence, the PMOS said that that was a matter for the Committee. The Government had said that it would co-operate fully with it so the committee could clearly call whoever it wished.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Search for related news

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