» Wednesday, February 4, 2004


Put to him that the Prime Minister’s admission that he had not known that the claim of “45-minutes” referred only to Battlefield munitions, when he was making his speech in the House of Commons on the vote on whether or not to go to war, was an extraordinary admission, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said no. The secret intelligence report had not specified the particular delivery system to which the time of 45 minutes applied. Therefore there was no reason why the Prime Minister should have asked that question. Asked if the Prime Minister should then have qualified it since he didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, the PMOS said it was not that he didn’t know what he was talking about. The Prime Minister was relying on the information from the SIS which was very different from not having a clue. Put to him that the Prime Minister had left the House with the very strong impression that the 45-minute claim referred to more than Battlefield weapons, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had not over-emphasised the 45-minute point in his speech at the time. Asked why the Prime Minister had chosen to raise it at all given its ambiguity, the PMOS repeated that the Prime Minster had not made a big point about it in the speech to the House on the 18th of March last year. In fact he had not mentioned it at all.

Asked if the Prime Minister’s confusion over the 45-minute claim demonstrated a lack of communication in the Government given that Geoff Hoon and John Scarlett both understood it, the PMOS said no because the 45-minute point was still relevant. The Prime Minister had made it clear in the House today that even if it was used in a battlefield context it would still be a Weapon of Mass Destruction which was used to cause massive casualties and would still have had a significant impact on regional stability. People were in danger of under-estimating the impact a Battlefield Weapon of Mass Destruction would have. Asked if he was quite satisfied that we went to war when the Prime Minister did not have a clear idea of the threat, the PMOS said the Government was quite satisfied that WMD Battlefield munitions were a clear breach of 1441. That was why we had given the answer we had in Paragraph 9 of our response to the ISC yesterday. Asked if the Prime Minister had known that the Evening Standard headline about 45-minutes was wrong, the PMOS said that it was self-evident that since the Prime Minister was not aware of that distinction, he could not have known that it was wrong. Put to him that Prime Minster had genuinely thought that we were 45 minutes from doom, the PMOS said he did not respond to loaded questions. Neither did he appreciate words being put into his mouth. He had explained earlier what the Prime Minister knew and why he had not queried it. That remained the position and it was set out in Paragraph 9 in the Government’s response to the ISC.

Asked to clarify the Prime Minister’s view that artillery shells and mortar shells were Weapons of Mass Destruction, the PMOS said that that was a complete misunderstanding of what he had said. Battlefield weapons which were modified to carry WMD were WMD. Asked if it was his understanding that any munitions which carried biological/chemical agents banned by various treaties constituted WMD, the PMOS said that any munitions which carried nuclear, chemical or biological weapons which were capable of mass destruction ipso facto were Weapons of Mass Destruction. Asked if the weapons used in the First World War were weapons of Mass Destruction the, PMOS said that we were entering the silly phase of this discussion. Asked to clarify what he meant by WMD, the PMOS said that in terms of WMD on the battlefield, it was clearly obvious that if you had a nuclear device, if you had a biological device or if you had a chemical device, then you had a Weapon of Mass Destruction.

Asked to clarify what the Prime Minister understood by the phrase 45-minutes before the war started, the PMOS drew journalists’ attention to Paragraph 9 in the Government’s response to the ISC report where it said: “because the source of the intelligence report on which the JIC assessment drew did not specify the nature of the delivery system to which the 45-minutes applied, there was no reference either to Battlefield or Strategic systems in the final JIC assessment on the 9th September 2002. That had been the position the Prime Minister was in.

Asked what the definition of a Weapon of Mass Destruction was, the PMOS said that journalists could get the technical definition from the Ministry of Defence. He had given journalists his definition.

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

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