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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 August, 2003, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Analysis: Taking responsibility?
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent at the Hutton inquiry

This was precisely the sort of confident, robust performance we have all come to expect from Tony Blair.

It is now almost a tradition that when the prime minister faces "his greatest test yet", he emerges from the event pretty much unscathed.

And this was certainly one of those crunch events.

He made that plain himself when he declared the row over whether he had "sexed up" the dossier on Iraq's weapons programmes was a resignation issue.

Tony Blair returns to Downing Street
Tony Blair returns to Downing Street

And, once again, he appeared self-confident and as convinced as ever of his own rightness.

He almost certainly left the extraordinary event - when has a British prime minister been seen in a court's witness box? - feeling he had done the job.

At no time did he look rattled or unsure. And at no time did he betray even the slightest doubt over any of his actions.

But, as is so often the case with this prime minister, it is the aftertaste - the post-performance review - that matters.

And the impression that lingers is of a prime minister who takes responsibility for everything - but really cannot be called to account for anything.

Time and again

The first key questions the prime minister had to address was whether he, or his office - particularly Alastair Campbell - had attempted to beef up the intelligence dossier to back the case for war on Saddam.

Secondly, he needed to answer the questions over his role in the naming of Dr David Kelly as the source of the "sexing up" story.

On the first, he offered a categoric denial and called to his side the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee John Scarlett, who has already given evidence to the fact that there was no sexing up.

In London's central criminal court the most presidential of all Britain's prime ministers was suddenly transformed into its most consultative.

On the second, he said once Dr Kelly had come forward his name was bound to have become public sooner or later and Dr Kelly accepted that.

It would also, he insisted, have been wrong to have concealed that development from the committees inquiring into the Iraq affair.

Time and again Mr Blair confirmed that he was involved in all the key decisions and accepted responsibility for them.

"In the end I am responsible for all the decisions taken. I take full responsibility for the decisions. I stand by them and think they were the right decisions," he said - several times.

Busy days

But then, almost in the same breath, he declared - in relation to evidence of Mr Campbell's discussions with the JIC over the dossier and the process leading to the naming of Dr Kelly - that he had not known the details or the specifics.

Phrases amounting to "I had a very busy day ahead", "I knew what Alastair was doing - but not the detail" littered his evidence.

But the blunt reading of his testimony leads to the conclusion that he was fully involved in - and therefore more than technically responsible for - the process which led to the naming of Dr Kelly.

He denied it was done because he believed it would help him win his argument with the BBC.

Indeed he said he could not be sure whether Dr Kelly would help or hurt him when he appeared before a Commons committee.

But he also denied intimate knowledge of discussions within Downing Street which might have suggested that was the approach.

He also said he stood absolutely by the Iraq Weapons of Mass Destruction dossier - but insisted it was the work of the Joint Intelligence Committee whose advice he fully accepted.

In London's Royal Courts of Justice the most presidential of all Britain's prime ministers was suddenly transformed into its most consultative.

The BBC's Louise Bevan
"There was a noisy reception for the Prime Minister at the Royal Courts of Justice"


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