British MPs to launch new attempt to pursue Tony Blair over Iraq war

#Chilcot

The new cross-party motion could see the former prime minister stripped of his last political privileges in the UK

Former prime minister Tony Blair, who served as a Middle East peace envoy after leaving office (AFP)
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Monday 28 November 2016 15:35 UTC
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British MPs are set to launch a new attempt to hold Tony Blair to account for the 2003 invasion of Iraq following the release of the long-awaited Chilcot Report into the run-up to the war. 

A group of MPs from six parties are planning a House of Commons motion demanding that a parliamentary committee investigates any discrepancy between what Blair told the Chilcot inquiry and what he said privately, including to former US president George W Bush.

Among those supporting the motion are Alex Salmond, former leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP); Hywel Williams, Westminster leader of Plaid Cymru; and Green party co-leader Caroline Lucas. Senior Labour and Tory MPs are also backing the move.

The motion calls on MPs to recognise that the inquiry “provided substantial evidence of misleading information presented by the then prime minister and others on the development of the then government’s policy towards the invasion of Iraq as shown most clearly in the contrast between private correspondence to the United States government and public statements to parliament and people”.

Salmond said that British civil servants were too “preoccupied with preventing previous and future prime ministers being held accountable” and said “an example should be set, not just of improving government but holding people to account".

He referenced a recent story in the Observer newspaper which suggested that the Chilcot inquiry had been designed by senior civil servents to "avoid blame".

He added that the committee could potentially see Blair stripped of his position on the Privy Council, an advisory body comprised of former parliamentarians.

Caroline Lucas said that Blair must still be held to account for the Iraq war, which saw hundreds of thousands of people killed and which plunged the country into instability and sectarian violence.

“The Chilcot report confirmed Tony Blair lied to the public, parliament and his own cabinet in order to drag us into the Iraq war," she said. Privately, he told Bush eight months before the war that he would support him "whatever". Meanwhile, the public line was that war could be avoided.

“Thousands of lives were lost because he put that promise before all the evidence. Yet, despite the damning evidence against him contained in the inquiry’s report, no action has been taken against the former prime minister," Lucas said. 

The move comes as the former prime minister attempts to reintroduce himself on the British political scene.

Blair has threatened to create a new political organisation focusing on "centrist" politics, aiming to entice supporters of the opposition Labour Party disillusioned with Jeremy Corbyn's left-wing leadership.

Last month he appealed to people who voted for Britain to stay in the European Union in a June referendum, describing them as the "new insurgents" and saying a second EU referendum was possible.

The former Labour leader has also shut down his office's business arm and is now looking for a new base in London, prompting press speculation that he will be seeking a more domestic political role after years working as a peace envoy on Israel and Palestine. 

However, Blair "is not returning to frontline politics, neither is he seeking a Brexit-related role," a spokesperson from his organisation told AFP this week.

"He has given many interviews, written articles and also campaigned in the EU referendum. He wants to continue to be part of the debate, not least because the centre ground is currently vacant," she said.

A report in the Sunday Times newspaper said Blair was planning "a pivotal role in shaping Britain's Brexit deal by scouting out a power base" in London.

"He's not impressed with [Prime Minister] Theresa May. He thinks she's a total lightweight," a source who had discussed Brexit with Blair told the paper.

"He thinks Jeremy Corbyn is a nutter and the Tories are screwing up Brexit," the source said.

Blair's spokesperson denied he had made the comments.

Blair, who was prime minister between 1997 and 2007, is seen as a formidable political campaigner but remains deeply unpopular in Britain for his role in taking the country into the 2003 Iraq war.