Tony Blair hints he could refuse to accept Chilcot's Iraq war verdict

Tony Blair

Tony Blair has suggested that he will refuse to accept the verdict of the Chilcot inquiry if it accuses him of committing Britain to invading Iraq before he told parliament and the public.

In an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, the former prime minister said he did not think anyone could say he did not make his position clear ahead of the 2003 war that led to the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

Sir John Chilcot is due to publish his long-awaited report into the war on 6 July. It is expected to be highly critical of Blair and other political and military figures. During the inquiry hearings there was particular focus on evidence suggesting Blair had given a firm commitment to back President George W Bush’s decision to invade while he was publicly saying a final decision had not yet been taken.

Asked if he would accept Chilcot’s conclusions, Blair told Marr: “It is hard to say that when I haven’t seen it.”

He continued: “But I think when you go back and you look at what was said, I don’t think anyone can seriously dispute that I was making it very clear what my position was.”

Blair also said that when the report comes out, he would be taking to the airwaves to defend himself rather than going to ground.

“The thing that will be important when it does happen is that we have then a full debate,” Blair said. “And I look forward to participating in that. Make no mistake about that. It is really important we do debate these issues.”

Blair may not have seen the full report, but it is understood that he has seen the key passages criticising his conduct, as part of the Maxwellisation process that allows people facing criticism from a report like this to see and respond to its draft conclusions.

The Sunday Times recently quoted an unnamed source with knowledge of the report saying that Blair “won’t be let off the hook” over claims that he told Bush he would support an invasion of Iraq in 2002, a full year before the decision was publicly confirmed.

At the Hay literary festival in Powys, Wales, author Tom Bowers took aim at Blair on Sunday by suggesting that criticism of his role in the Iraq war would not go far enough.

Bower is the author of a scathing biography of Blair that portrays him as a man with few policies and no ideology. Bower told the festival: “Chilcot in my view will criticise the wrong people, the easy targets ... the cabinet secretary, the chief of the defence staff, who was not told the truth. The man obviously to blame is Blair.

“He wil be criticised perhaps for undermining government, for having no plan for post-war Iraq ... but he won’t be blamed for lying, that will not happen.”

Bower suggested that Chilcot himself was too close to the establishment, in that he was heavily involved in the second Iraq inquiry conducted by the cabinet secretary, Sir Robin Butler.

His book argues that Blair worked hard to gain power but had no idea what to do with it when he got it. It was a government without ideology and by its second term it was too late to get one as he was being weakened by Gordon Brown and was on the “treadmill to Iraq”, he says.

The Chilcot report is expected to be especially damning about the British and American failure to prepare for the aftermath of the invasion, which triggered years of violent sectarian conflict and virtual civil war.

But there will be particular interest in what it says about Blair’s candour regarding his pre-war intentions because his critics claim he lied to the public about his plans. Whether or not Chilcot will accuse Blair of dishonesty on that scale remains to be seen.

In his Marr interview, Blair also denied claims that remarks he made in an interview on Saturday about how it would be “very dangerous” if a leftwing populist took power were aimed at Jeremy Corbyn.

“I wasn’t talking about Jeremy Corbyn, by the way. I was talking about the general populism there is in the world today,” he claimed.

In a BBC interview broadcast on Saturday, Blair had said: “It would be a very dangerous experiment for a major western country to get gripped by this type of populist policymaking left or right.” This was widely taken as a reference to Corbyn because Blair was responding to a question that specifically mentioned him.

Blair said he was “not being disloyal” to the current Labour leader and, although he said he was waiting to see what policies Corbyn produced, he insisted: “I don’t disrespect him as a person, or his views at all.”

He also said he would be backing Labour at the general election even if Corbyn remained leader. “I’ll always tell people to vote Labour because I’m Labour. That’s just the way I am,” he said.

In the Marr interview, Blair also dismissed claims that his wealth and globetrotting lifestyle meant he was now out of touch with the views of people who used to support him.

“What I say to that is, if you are reading stuff in the press about what I do nowadays, don’t read it or believe it. Go and look at my website and you’ll see what I actually do,” he said.

“I spend 80% of my time on unpaid work. I have just literally spent weeks in the Middle East on the Middle East peace process. I have two foundations. I employ around 200 people. I have to raise the money and make the money for all of them. What we actually do is very good and exciting work around the world, but you won’t read a bit of it here.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Andrew Sparrow Political correspondent, for The Guardian on Sunday 29th May 2016 11.38 Europe/London

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