Many MPs voted for military intervention in Iraq, at the behest of Tony Blair, and have since changed their minds on the basis of what has happened since.
I opposed it at the time, largely because of the shifting reasoning. We were told that it was about support for terrorism. When that couldn’t be proved, we were then informed that it was about weapons of mass destruction. Finally, we were given the reasoning that it would help the Iraqi people.
But without a credible plan, there was no guarantee that it would actually help anyone. The rise of ISIS proved much worse than I, or many of us, could ever have imagined.
If the reason for war keeps changing, then it begins to look like an excuse: a government which was desperate to give any rationale it could think of for going to war, irrespective of evidence. War is not something which should ever be entered into lightly, or without due consideration and contemplation. It is the most solemn duty of any government, under the leadership of any Prime Minister. For that reason I opposed it.
Now the Chilcot report has been published, we know more than we did. It will take time to absorb such a lengthy, detailed and nuanced report. The report is hugely critical of the Blair administration, for example:
“Military action at that time was not a last resort.”
“The UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted.”
It also questions how the legal basis for war was decided.
Blair told Chilcot that much could be seen only now with hindsight; Chilcot blew this out of the water: “We do not agree that hindsight is required. The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability, and Al Qaida activity in Iraq, were each explicitly identified before the invasion.”
The comments in the Chilcot report go beyond what I was aware of at the time; if the evidence available to the Blair government was even more overwhelming at the time, how could Blair and his cabinet possibly have gone along with it?
Robin Cook did not. He resigned from the Cabinet, being unable to accept collective responsibility on the war. His comments at the time were telling:
“On Iraq, I believe that the prevailing mood of the British people is sound. They do not doubt that Saddam is a brutal dictator, but they are not persuaded that he is a clear and present danger to Britain. They want inspections to be given a chance, and they suspect that they are being pushed too quickly into conflict by a US Administration with an agenda of its own. Above all, they are uneasy at Britain going out on a limb on a military adventure without a broader international coalition and against the hostility of many of our traditional allies.”
Why didn’t more of the Labour Cabinet, who were in full possession of all the facts, speak out at the time?
There will be many questions that should be asked in the coming days but one will be pivotal. How did Labour get things so badly wrong, and how can we prevent war ever being entered into so lightly by a British government again?