» Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Butler Report

Asked to explain what the Prime Minister had agreed to take responsibility for, as he had underlined in his Statement to the House today, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that Lord Butler had identified some mistakes which we acknowledged had been made and had come up with a series of recommendations. Equally, the Prime Minister continued to believe that the fundamental judgement relating to the reasons for going to war was correct. In his view, the Butler Report was a balanced report. It was important for people to recognise that, like Lord Hutton, the ISC and the FAC, Lord Butler had found no evidence to suggest that people had not acted in good faith. That was a very important point to take into account. Asked to spell out in detail the mistakes which had been made, the PMOS said that he had no intention of rehearsing the contents of the Report. Journalists could read it for themselves. That said, it was clear that mistakes had been made in relation to the intelligence process and the fact that caveats should have been attached to some of the information contained in the dossier. Asked to explain how the deletion of the caveats in the dossier could be considered acting in good faith, the PMOS pointed to Paragraph 21 of the Report's conclusions (Chapter 8) which stated that there was "no evidence of deliberate distortion or of culpable negligence" in the dossier. This included the fact that the caveats had not been added. It was this point which underlined the whole Report. As Lord Butler had said in his press conference this morning, "In my view, [there was] no deliberate attempt on the part of Government to mislead.....We have no reason, we have found no evidence to question the Prime Minister's good faith". That was Lord Butler's conclusion, as it had been Lord Hutton's, the ISC's and the FAC's. Put to him that the Prime Minister should take personal responsibility for the decision not to include the caveats in the light of the fact that he, himself, had chosen not to include them in his foreword to the dossier or in his various Statements to Parliament, the PMOS said Lord Butler had concluded that the Prime Minister had made his Statements and the dossier had been produced in good faith. If he had thought that the caveats had been left out as part of a deliberate strategy to distort the intelligence, he would not have included Paragraph 21 of his Report, he would not have accepted Lord Hutton's findings and would not have said specifically in his press conference that he had found no evidence of a deliberate attempt to mislead or anything to question the Prime Minister's good faith. Consequently, it was clear the Prime Minister's foreword and Statements to the House had been made in good faith. Asked why the Prime Minister had failed to apologise to the House for misleading MPs - however inadvertently, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had set up an inquiry "to investigate the accuracy of intelligence on Iraqi WMD up to March 2003, and to examine any discrepancies between the intelligence gathered, evaluated and used by the Government before the conflict, and between that intelligence and what has been discovered by the Iraq Survey Group since the end of the conflict" (Foreign Secretary, House of Commons, 3 February 2004). The results of that inquiry had been published today and the Prime Minister had come to the House this afternoon to respond to it, as was right and proper. He accepted the fact that it would have been better had the caveats been included and he also accepted responsibility for the mistakes which had been made. Put to him that, despite acting in good faith, the Prime Minister had still misled the country on the reasons for going to war, the PMOS said that in his Statement to the House today, the Prime Minister had underlined that the fundamental reasons for going to war were justified. Moreover, Paragraph 41 of the Report's conclusions (Chapter 8) showed that, in the Butler Committee's view, the intelligence which had been gathered and the evidence which had been found justified the conclusion that Saddam had had the "strategic intention of resuming the pursuit of prohibited weapons programmes", that he had been "carrying out illicit research and development, and procurement, activities" and had been "developing ballistic missiles with a range longer than permitted under relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions". This was proof that Saddam had been in breach of UN Resolution 1441, which was why the decision had been taken to go to war. The PMOS also took the opportunity to reiterate the point that the dossier had not been drawn up to argue the case for war. As Lord Butler had accepted, it had been drawn up to demonstrate why we had needed to take a stronger stand to enforce UN Resolutions on Iraq.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)

European Constitution

Asked if the Prime Minister welcomed the French Government's decision to hold a referendum on the European Constitution, the PMOS said that this was entirely a matter for the French Government and the people of France. The Prime Minister had set out why he believed the Treaty was good for both Europe and the UK. He looked forward to arguing the case in our own referendum. Asked if the British referendum would still go ahead even if the French people voted 'no' in theirs, the PMOS said that as the Prime Minister had underlined many times, the referendum in the UK would still take place, no matter what the outcome was in other countries.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)

EU Rebate

Asked for a reaction to the European Commission's proposal to phase out the UK's rebate over four years from 2008, the PMOS said that our position on the rebate had not changed since last week when he had been asked questions about the issue, or indeed since the Treaty negotiations last month. He reminded journalists that there were still eighteen months of discussions to go. In answer to further questions, the PMOS said we had ensured, as part of the Treaty negotiations, that any decision on the rebate would need to be backed unanimously.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)

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