Tony Blair after Chilcot: "I will take full responsibility for any mistakes but I did what was right"

Responding to the Chilcot report, the former Labour Prime Minister maintained it was still better to remove Saddam Hussein. 

NS

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Sir John Chilcot might have been too gentlemanly to spell it out, but his 2.6m word report places a spotlight on one man - Tony Blair. 

The former Prime Minister was quick to respond, with what could best be termed optimism. 

He said: “The report should lay to rest allegations of bad faith, lies or deceit. 

"Whether people agree or disagree with my decision to take military action against Saddam Hussein; I took it in good faith and in what I believed to be the best interests of the country."

He also said the report found there was "no falsification or improper use of intelligence", "no deception of Cabinet" and "no secret commitment to war".

This interpretation is somewhat breezier than that of Chilcot, who singled out Blair's failure to discuss military commitments with the Cabinet until the brink of war, questioned the way he presented evidence and identified an early determination to follow US policy, "whatever".

Blair did note, however, that the report makes "real and material criticisms of preparation, planning, process and of the relationship with the United States".

He said: "These are serious criticisms and they require serious answers." 

Blair has refused to apologise for the Iraq war, although he has accepted there were intelligence failures and a lack of preparation for the aftermath.

In the wake of Chilcot, he said: "I will take full responsibility for any mistakes without exception or excuse."

But later, at a press conference, he made it clear he considered those mistakes only amounted to errors in planning and preparation.

He told journalists he took the decision he believed was best for Britain's: "Please stop saying I was lying or I had some dishonest or underhand motive. I have the motives I explained."

Pressed on the consequences of that decision, he said: "The decisions I've made I have carried with me for 13 days and will do so for the rest of my days. There is not a day in my life I do not rethink and relive what has happened."]

And after being asked to look the families who had lost children serving in Iraq, he stared straight at the camera and said: "I can look not just the families but the nation in the eye and say I did not mislead this country. I made the decision on good faith based on the information I had at the time.

"What I cannot do and will not do is say we took the wrong decision. I believe I took the right decision and the world is better and safer as a result of it."

Blair repeatedly drew comparisons between Iraq and Syria, and argued: "Iraq under Saddam had no chance. Iraq today has a chance."

He rebuffed a journalist's point that the Islamic State was born in the jails of Iraq in the post-Saddam era. 

The 90 minute speech and press conference was a reminder of Blair's considerable powers of persuasion. He argued he had a binary choice to make, and questioned whether acting any differently would have improved security in today's world. 

Perhaps the most classic phrase was one near the end, when he declared: "There is no inconsistency in expressing my sorrow for those who have lost their lives, my regret and still saying the decision is right."

 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.