Page last updated at 14:32 GMT, Friday, 29 January 2010

Tony Blair faces Iraq inquiry: Pt 2

Coverage from 1100 GMT to 1400 of Tony Blair's evidence to the UK's inquiry into the Iraq war:

By Justin Parkinson

Liam Fox
1401 Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox told the BBC Mr Blair had given a "very assured performance" and there had been no contrition "because he obviously believed he made the right decision". He said the Tories still backed the invasion but added: "We will want to see what he says in the rest of evidence." He said Mr Blair appeared to be trying to shift the justification for the war from the argument he made at the time about weapons of mass destruction to regime change.

1355 Valerie O'Neill, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, told BBC Radio 4's World at One the atmosphere in the inquiry room was "very tense and there has been a few mutterings from the families when he has said that the families know not to be true".

Peter Biles
1350 From BBC world affairs correspondent Peter Biles at the inquiry: So Tony Blair remains a "true believer" in the Iraq war. There was not a hint of contrition or regret, in spite of the fact that bereaved families who lost loved ones in Iraq, were among those sitting behind him in the public gallery, listening to every word of his evidence. One of the sisters of Margaret Hassan, the British aid worker who was kidnapped and killed in Iraq, said the only consolation to be drawn from this morning's session was that Mr Blair had been forced to appear before the Iraq Inquiry. Mr Blair has remained firm in his belief that what he did in Iraq, was right. He was equally robust in his presentation, frequently trying to direct the Inquiry to notes and references which he had brought to bolster his case. The members of Sir John Chilcot's committee did their best to ensure that Mr Blair answered their questions, and did not deviate to the extent that he took control of the proceedings.

1345 Andrew Gilligan, whose report led to the row between the BBC and the government over the September 2002 dossier, said Mr Blair's argument that the tolerance of Iraq changed after 9/11 "is a fairly illogical position because Iraq by everyone's admission had nothing to do with 9/11".

1338 Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey has said Sir John Chilcot "is absolutely right to demand detailed reasoning from the cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell as to why he has rejected requests to make documents public. It is welcome news that Sir John may recall Tony Blair to the inquiry. The fact that Tony Blair cannot currently be questioned directly against these vital documents is totally unsatisfactory."

1332The SNP's Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, tells the BBC: "Blair is a Private Eye parody of himself: 'Even if it was wrong, it was still the right thing to do'."

Nick Robinson
1333 BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson said the most striking thing about the morning's session was there had not been an apology or "a hint of contrition" from Mr Blair. "If you wanted to see Tony Blair pinned down you would be very angry indeed," he added.

1320 Former lord Chancellor Lord Falconer tells BBC Radio 4's The World at One that Mr Blair has shown a "total openness" about discussions with the US ahead of the war.

1319 The Westminster protest appears to have shrunk from its late-morning levels. The weather is dank and dreary. Things should be far livelier when Mr Blair leaves at about 1700 GMT.

andyvglnt tweets: Apparently I'm the only person on the internet giving Blair the benefit of the doubt. It's worth remembering that Tony Blair is not a panto baddy, but a human being, who took on the most difficult job in the country.

euphrosene tweets: Staggered how forelock tugging the Chilcot questioners have been. No wonder Blair looks like he's at a garden party!

mightymidget88 tweets: Typical Blair, it's his way or no way...You've got to admire his control over the proceedings though.

dotyacd tweets: Blair says "we would have lost our nerve." Does this refer to the then imminent US presidential election?

Nick Robinson
1254 BBC political editor Nick Robinson, who is at the inquiry says: "It was on the issue of regime change that we learnt the most this morning. Up until today witnesses from Tony Blair's government have insisted that the Americans' stated objective of regime change was illegitimate and illegal. The British government's policy of disarmament was distinct, they insisted. However, this morning Tony Blair said that there was no 'binary' choice between them and that they were, indeed, different ways of expressing the same proposition."

Iain Watson
1250 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: During this session Tony Blair had a second a third and a fourth line of defence for his actions in going to war. The first line of defence, of course, was that Saddam's active WMD programme had to be stopped. But then he argues that even though WMD weren't found the Iraq Survey group showed Saddam had the 'intent' to restart such a weapons programme; he then argues that in any case Saddam breached his obligations to the UN by not co-operating enough with the weapons inspectors, unlike the co-operation Gaddaffi gave on his weapons; and finally he argues what would have happened if action hadn't been taken - if the US and UK pulled back from the brink and looked weak what risk in 2010 would the world have faced from an emboldened - rather than ousted - Saddam? So not only no regrets from Tony Blair but he makes the case that it would have been unreasonable and risky - even irresponsible - in the end not to have tackled the Iraqi regime.

1247 Lance Price, Mr Blair's former media adviser, says the ex-PM appeared very well-briefed but anxious not to seem like a politician "on his soap box".

1242 The inquiry breaks up for lunch, with Mr Blair's questioning set to continue from 1400 GMT. Chairman Sir John Chilcot thanks the audience - which includes relatives of some of the service personnel killed in Iraq - for their good behaviour. We hear that some of those in the overflow viewing room decided to pop out a minute or two before the session ended. Wanting to beat the queues at the coffee machine?

1241 Asked whether he urged President Bush to give more time to reach a UN resolution, Mr Blair says that Saddam had not cooperated before. Mr Blair says that, if a resolution could be put together, Mr Bush was in favour, but there was not the time.

Iain Watson
1240 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: Although no weapons of mass destruction were found following the war but Tony Blair says the findings of the Iraq Survey Group that Saddam had the means and "know how" to restart a weapons programme justifies action.

e-mail sent in by reader
"Believe", "honestly", "possibly", "what if", "potential", "what could they have done if we had not acted" - here is a man who refuses to live in the real world and dwells in the possible world.
Isaac, Manchester

mckenna1977 tweets: Withholding documents and obstructing interviews doesn't mean WMD are present. This is ridiculous.

1237 Mr Blair says the nine votes needed from the UN Security Council for action would have been gained, but France and Russia "disintegrated that possibility".

1235 The UK was "trying desperately" to get a way of going ahead with the UN, Mr Blair says. However, it became "very clear" that France and Russia's position on agreeing to any resolution had changed.

1234 Mr Blair says he tried to find a way, with Mr Blix, to move on, constructing tests for Saddam's regime, including interviewing Iraqi scientists outside the country.

1232 The simplest way of resolving the issue would have been a change of heart on the part of Saddam, Mr Blair says, and that Mr Blix's evidence did not suggest this.

1231 Mr Blair says UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix's reports were clear that Saddam's compliance, in the run-up to war, was not immediate or unconditional.

1229 Mr Blair says he worked for a UN resolution "until the last moment".

Tony Blair
1227 Mr Blair says he was "confused" as to what Mr Blix was trying to say in February 2003. On one page of his briefing, he says Iraq has made a commitment to allow interviews but there was a reluctance to follow through. Sometimes it is important not to ask the "March 2003 question" but the "2010 question", Mr Blair says. It is at least arguable that Saddam was a threat and if he had been left in place for several more years, with oil at $100 a barrel, he would have had the intent and the means to act, and the UK and its allies would have "lost our nerve", he argues.

e-mail sent in by reader
His linguistic capabilities and lawyer's way of thinking is far too sophisticated for this panel. They simply can't find a big enough gap in his argument to really get at him. They're almost waiting for him to drop himself in it, and until he does (which of course he won't because he's far too well prepared), then we will keep dancing in merry little circles. This is like the first few days of the Frost-Nixon interview, Tony is dictating the terms and they don't have the capacity to get at him.
Indy, Coventry

Iain Watson
1225 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: Tony Blair makes an important distinction between Saddam and Col Gaddafi, who dismantled Libya's WMD programme under international scrutiny. The former PM is implicitly arguing that it doesn't really matter if Saddam had WMD - the fact that, unlike Libya, he did not co-operate, concealed documents, and restricted access to scientists means that he was in breach of his obligations to the UN and could not be trusted not to resurrect a weapons programme even if one wasn't in the end active at that time - that the UN was into a "game playing scenario" with Saddam.

1224 Saddam was in a "game-playing" situation with the UN's chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, Mr Blair says. As troops began to build up, the Iraqi leader started to give more cooperation. Mr Blix was not "enthusiastic" about interviewing Iraqi scientists, as they, or their families, could be killed.

1223 Saddam could have provided the proper documentation and complied by providing his scientists for interview, Mr Blair says.

e-mail sent in by reader
Mr Blair's remark that the "beyond doubt" claim in the dossier was justifiable because qualified by his own "I believe" touches on a thread which runs through the whole of the Iraq issue. The public can't know the same detail as the PM; in large measure we had to trust his judgment. That judgement was wrong. It cannot be excused simply by reference to his belief.
Del Credere, London

Iain Watson
1222 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: Tony Blair says in January 2003, when he met President Bush, he was still working for a second UN resolution but in any case the 'first' resolution - 1441 - was clear and showed Iraq in 'material breach' of its obligations. Having said that, according to his evidence this week the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith wasn't convinced at that stage that this resolution could legally justify war.

1220 Mr Blair says it is absolutely clear Saddam was concealing evidence he should have provided to the United Nations

sbaggo tweets: Of course he's going to deny they used the 45 minute claim for any wrongdoing - the consequences would be immense.

1213 Mr Blair is asked whether military planning set the terms of diplomatic debate. There was no doubt Saddam was in breach of UN conditions, he tells the inquiry. There was time enough to get another resolution, but France and Russia moved to another position, Mr Blair says.

1209 The biggest reaction amongst those watching in the overflow viewing room at the inquiry was mild applause and grunts of approval at the question about why he said the intelligence proved the WMD case "beyond doubt".

1207 Backing away from Saddam in the run-up to war would have sent a "bad message" for the rest of the world, the former PM says.

1205 On going to the UN, says the difficulty was that Resolution 1441 was "strong", but there was an "unresolved issue". Some countries wanted to have a decision for action only with a specific UN mandate. Mr Blair took the view that that was not necessary but he thought a new resolution would make the situation easier politically.

Sir Menzies Campbell
1204 Former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell tells the BBC: "Blair is facing two ways on the UN. He relies on UN disarmament resolutions to justify singling out Iraq without acknowledging the UN's own Charter forbids regime change - which he knew the Americans were hell bent on."

1202 Towards the end of October 2002, the then Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, asked Mr Blair to discuss military planning in more detail, he says. Most of this had to be "under the radar" but did not always stay there, he tells the panel.

Tony Blair
1201 On presentation of the UK's Iraq policy in 2002, Mr Blair says there had been no decision on military action but it was a possibility. The "problem" was that people were writing that the UK had decided. If he had said military planning was in place, this could make such a course of action "irreversible", he adds.

concertina226 tweets: I'm not sure about Blair. He seems to be faltering, but he honestly believes what he's saying. To be honest, back then, so did I.

Iain Watson
1157 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: At least a partial admission from Tony Blair that the use of intelligence could have been bettered handled. Tony Blair argues that the now controversial 45 minute claim on Saddam's ability to have WMD ready for use in the September 2002 dossier took on much more significance subsequently than at the time. But Sir Lawrence Freedman is concerned even at the time that the claim was too general and not specific enough. Tony Blair admits with hindsight that it would have been better to have corrected this at the time but again makes clear that there is no truth in the allegation that Downing St used the information knowing it to be probably wrong.

1156 Sir Roderic Lyne says other countries close to Iraq took different decisions. Mr Blair says the change after 9/11 meant he was not prepared to take a risk on the issue. It was not a "deceit or deception", but a "decision".

Iain Watson
1155 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: A significant exchange between Sir Lawrence and Tony Blair. The former PM says it is justifiable to say intelligence on Iraq was "beyond doubt" because he prefaces the phrase in the foreword of the September dossier with the word "I believe" and he says he genuinely believed it… that was, in effect his reading of the intelligence and he "couldn't understand how anyone could come to a different view".

seldonscott tweets: "I didn't focus on it a great deal at the time" Blair says of 45 min claim. Yet he put it in the foreword?

Sir Roderic Lyne
1154 Panel member Sir Roderic Lyne asks whether intelligence in late 2002 was suggesting the WMD threat was growing. It was, Mr Blair says. It was not known at the time that evidence of mobile weapons production facilities - which would have allowed Saddam to evade inspections - was wrong, he adds.

1151 Mr Blair says all the intelligence received, even after the publication of the dossier containing the 45-minutes claim, was to the same effect: that Saddam had WMDs.

rah33ls tweets: Blair is consistent and walking circles around this toothless charade. The 'honest Tony' act shines through again.

mikecharland tweets: Blair tic: he loves to use "people" , "we", "government" as a way of spreading the responsibility, despite his self-centred personal views.

epredator tweets: There seems a lot of waltzing around on the 45 minutes. Regardless of nuance they rode that wave of belief.

jeremyduns tweets: Yes, great question! Why Iraq not Iran?

e-mail sent in by reader
The killer question: "beyond your doubt or beyond any doubt", but what did the answer mean? I'm no closer to what he thinks the answer is - is there a right answer? We are now already onto a different question. I have to congratulate him for the dodge.
Luke, Northampton

If Blair seems 'nervous and defensive' as a few people have said, then this is surely understandable in the circumstances. He is, after all, here to defend himself! If our involvement in Iraq had lasted only 6 or 12 months, then the deposing of Saddam Hussein would be seen today as a great success, if not TB's finest hour. Hindsight is a marvellous thing.
Jon, Birmingham

He is making it clear, time and time again, that his decision to go to war boiled down to a personal sense of the threat rather than on any empirical data, in fact the empirical data that was available at that time pointed towards his personal view being largely misguided. Unfortunately it would appear that the power of his personality converted what were little more than personal misgivings into a military action.
Fawnlees, Durham

They are not picking him up on details. Mr Blair said that America is our main ally. Why is Europe, then, not our main ally? We have votes in Europe, not America. He said that WMD were a security threat to us. Were they? If so, how? Weren't they far more likely to be a threat to Israel? Why do they not explore that line of enquiry?
HCPhillips, London

1149 At the UN in November 2002, people did not dispute whether Saddam had WMDs, but what to do about them, Mr Blair says.

1148 Asked if he was too trusting of the evidence on weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Mr Blair says a leader's worry is not simply if such intelligence is correct but, if it is, "what am I going to do about it?"

1146 Prime ministers have to rely on evidence provided by intelligence experts, Mr Blair says. If there was any possibility that Saddam could develop WMDs, it was his view that he should be stopped, he adds.

1144 If Mr Blair was PM now, he would allow the Joint Intelligence Committee to publish the evidence without any input from the government, as this was strong enough in itself, he says. He says it would be difficult to come to a conclusion different to that reached by the government at the time.

1141 Dealing with intelligence evidence, Mr Blair says he believed it when he said in his foreword to the 2002 dossier that it was "beyond doubt" that Saddam had continued to produce biological and chemical weapons.

1138 The 45-minute claim made headlines in the press, Sir Lawrence Freedman says and asks if it was given an "exaggerated importance". The dossier at the time was seen as "dull and cautious", Mr Blair says, and was given more significance by untrue claims that Downing Street had inserted material against the wishes of the intelligence services.

1137 Sir Lawrence Freedman suggests the 45-minute claim was reported in a "misleading" way, losing its "specificity and gaining a broader meaning". Mr Blair says it would have been better to have corrected it, given the importance it subsequently took on. This was the subject of the Hutton inquiry, which reported in 2004, he tells the panel.

1134 On to the September 2002 dossier, claiming Saddam had WMDs he could mobilise within 45 minutes of giving an order. Mr Blair says this was to do with short-range chemical munitions. The words later took on "far greater significance", he adds.

Sir Lawrence Freedman
1132 Sir Lawrence Freedman suggests Iraq was chosen for "exemplary effect", as it could be tackled via a United Nations route. Mr Blair says the focus on Iraq was because Saddam had used WMDs during the Iran-Iraq war and on his own people.

1131 Panel member Sir Lawrence Freedman asks why Iraq was chosen, rather than Iran, for action. Mr Blair says Iraq was in breach of UN resolutions on WMDs.

TimEmerton tweets: I think Blair must be delighted so far. Alastair Campbell will be so proud... he's not forgotten any tricks of the trade.

GregorySharpe tweets: re Mark C, Leeds. You'll find the 'clear majority' supporting the war did so believing the dossier put before Parliament.

rorybrown tweets: Blair is still very impressive. Really highlights the shambles that has followed.

e-mail sent in by reader
To those who think that the enquiry is being easy on Tony Blair: what I can see is the enquiry digging a hole for Blair towards which he seems to be rapidly walking...

He is looking nervous, but has anyone (poker players out there) noticed what his tell is?? I can't work it out yet...
Lewis, Cambridge

Iain Watson
1129 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: Tony Blair is perhaps trying to get some coverage for his current views rather than simply his justification for his past actions. Time and again he talks of the potential threat from Iran.

1128 Mr Blair says that, in 2002, he felt weapons of mass destruction held by Saddam would be a threat to the UK.

1126 Mr Blair says the "link" between Saddam and al-Qaeda - which previous inquiries have suggested did not exist - was that highly suppressed and failing states become "porous" and easier for terror groups to infiltrate. The link between this problem and failing states having WMDs could make them more dangerous, he tells the panel.

Iain Watson
1125 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: Tony Blair agrees with the previous Butler inquiry conclusion that intelligence on WMD was sporadic and patchy but in effect argues that because of the "wicked" nature of Saddam's regime it was more of a threat than more benign regimes that were also thought to have had such weapons.

1124 Saddam had used WMDs and "definitely had them", Mr Blair says. It would have required much evidence to put the supposed programme to develop more WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) into doubt, he adds.

1122 Mr Blair says there are many regimes he would "like to see the back of", but there has to be a basis of a security threat to the UK. The assessment of this threat was intimately connected to the nature of Saddam's regime, which had used chemical weapons on Kurds, he adds. Mr Blair calls Saddam "wicked" and possibly "psycopathic".

1120 Another panel member, historian Sir Martin Gilbert, asks about WMDs. Had little changed, in terms of security evidence, he inquires. Mr Blair says it was "always relevant to me" that the nature of the regime made a difference to the nature of the WMD "threat".

1117 Mr Blair says that, if it was right to conduct a military campaign, it was right for Britain to be involved. It was best, in such a case, to be "right alongside" the US. If war is thought to be right, the UK "should be prepared to play our part fully", Mr Blair adds.

e-mail sent in by reader
Re Mike Leeds: It is also likely that those against in these posts were also against the war back to when you refer... Being a good public speaker does not automatically make what that person says is correct... or even true.
Luke, Northampton

1115 Mr Blair is asked about "packages" discussed, in terms of the efforts to be made in the event of military action and how he weighed up the risks to personnel. Mr Blair said he asked the military, who were "up for doing it", if war was to happen.

1113 Mr Blair says military action possibilities were discussed at that Crawford meeting with President Bush in April 2002.

Tony Blair
1112 After a break which over-ran the original estimate of about 15 minutes, the evidence is about to start again. Mr Blair is back in his seat.

1111 One of the people watching Mr Blair's performance via video link in another room of the Queen Elizabeth II centre has been escorted out after proclaiming "I can't stomach any more of this", the BBC learns.

mrbry tweets: This is unreal. "We'll come to that..." Blair has now taken over the role of chairman at his own interrogation.

ArtisanMelly tweets: Blair's not doing a very good job selling the 'its been tough but for the best' viewpoint. He looks nervous and unconvincing.

MatthewEyre tweets: I still believe this inquiry is largely useless, but it has been interesting, it does almost feel trial-like. Blair largely performing well.

1108 The number of protesters gathered in Westminster has "dwindled somewhat", the BBC's Tom Symonds reports. But more are expected to gather towards the end of today's hearing.

e-mail sent in by reader
Nice to see some balance in the BBC's coverage. I take it you're not receiving anything but anti-Blair comments so they're the only ones you can publish. And, re MJ Dolan Manchester; if millions disagreed with him then how was he elected for a third term more than two years after the invasion with a 66 seat majority? I think you'll find it's called democracy.
Lawrence Kershaw, London

It's amazing what hindsight does to a number of people. While there was an opposition to the war, there seemed a clear majority that backed our forces and decisions to go in to Iraq. I'm quite enjoying Tony showing again how good a public speaker he is.
Mike C, Leeds

I thought Iraq was a secular state under Saddam Hussein, so what has he to do with 9/11 and Islamic Fundamentalism?
Steven Danesi, London

Angus Robertson
1104 The SNP's Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, tells the BBC: "Tony Blair led the country into the worst foreign policy disaster of modern times... Blair says force was 'always an option'. The key issue is when the decision was made for that 'option' to become a grim reality."

1103 BBC political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg says Mr Blair has dismissed the idea that he and President Bush had reached a "deal in blood" at the Crawford ranch to back military action. She says she is "struck" by how often Mr Blair has mentioned 9/11.

1100 At Westminster, one man, believed to be an anti-war protester, has been taken away by police, the BBC learns.

e-mail sent in by reader
Why are we back to linking Iraq with 9/11? This is just running in circles...
Ed, Cambridge

Watching his performance, it's not working for him this time. He's like a rabbit in the headlights. Very nervous and defensive. I think that says it all really.
Chic, Leicester

arge1 tweets: Did I mention Kosovo? That was a great war! Sorry did I mention Kosovo?

Floppy tweets: Hm, it really doesn't matter if you thought it was right or not.

ajlaw13 tweets: Blair can be quite icy when he wants to be. "I don't think he (Sir Christopher Meyer) was there at the critical meeting, in fact". Snap.

Iain Watson
1052 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: Tony Blair suggests there may be a forward looking - though, for some, not necessarily welcome - aspect to the inquiry - that it is important to learn the lessons of Iraq because of the current problems with Iran; and the suspicion they are developing a nuclear weapons programme.

e-mail sent in by reader
He's flannelling, trying to mix 9/11 with Islamic fundamentalism and WMD. Saddam was not involved in 9/11, had no weapons of mass destruction and was opposed to Islamic fundamentalism. He's trying to confuse and succeeding!
Mike Griffiths, Derbyshire

1051 After 80 minutes, the inquiry is taking its first break for the day. The panel should return at about 1105 GMT.

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