by Chris Lamb
I have finally received a reply from the Cabinet Office to the freedom of information request I first made in June relating to disclosure of information that would show evidence for Tony Blair’s “unequivocal view”, on 15 March 2003, that Iraq was in “further material breach” of its treaty obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1441. This was one of the key decisions that committed this country to military force.
The reply shows that no official record was made of the factual evidence upon which Blair’s “unequivocal view” – conveyed in a letter from his private secretary Matthew Rycroft – relied. It holds no such records. As the Cabinet Office is connected to the Office of the Prime Minister, this would also apply to the Prime Minister’s Office.
It should be remembered that the Chilcot Report made it clear that Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, emphasized the necessity for “strong factual evidence” to corroborate any such alleged ‘further material breach’. The basis for legal force under the US revival argument (which was drafted into Operational Paragraph 4 (OP4) of UNSCR 1441), in Goldsmith’s view, required such strong factual evidence.
Here is a transcript of the chronological narrative from Section 5 of the Chilcot Report which directly addresses these issues:
Lord Goldsmith’s view that resolution 1441 authorised the use of force relied on the conclusion that OP4:
“… constituted a determination in advance that if the particular set of circumstances specified in it arose, so that Iraq failed to take the final opportunity it had been given,that would constitute a further material breach.
“The resolution therefore constituted authority for the use of force provided that such a factual situation had occurred, namely that Iraq had failed to comply with and co-operate fully in the implementation of the resolution. In that event a Council discussion would need to take place.
“I had concluded that in any such Council discussion the assessment contemplated by OP4 was not an assessment of the quality of the breaches, since the Council had already resolved that any failure on Iraq’s part would constitute a material breach, but rather an assessment of the situation as a result of those breaches having occurred … Accordingly, the Council did not need to conclude that breaches had taken place (though I believe that at the discussion no member of the Security Council took the view that they had not occurred).
“Nonetheless the authorisation in resolution 678 could not revive unless in fact breaches had occurred. We needed therefore to be satisfied that this factual situation existed, and to be in a position if necessary to justify that to a court.
“That was why I said … that there would have to be strong factual grounds for concluding that Iraq had failed to take the final opportunity.”
Lord Goldsmith wrote:
“As I explained giving my oral evidence, this was an issue on which I wanted the Prime Minister consciously and deliberately to focus, hence my request for written confirmation that he had reached this view.”
Mr Blair’s view
The Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction (‘The Butler Report’) records it was:
“… told that, in coming to his view that Iraq was in further material breach, the Prime Minister took account both of the overall intelligence picture and of information from a wide range of other sources, including especially UNMOVIC information.”
[“The Butler Report”], 14 July 2004, HC 898, paragraph 385.
Mr Blair told the Liaison Committee on 21 Ja nuary 2003 that, if the reported breach was a pattern of behaviour rather than conclusive proof would require “more considered judgement”.
As the Inquiry indicates in Sections 3.7 and 3.8, Mr Blair and his advisers in No.10 had been very closely involved, particularly since the beginning of March, in examining the reports of the UN weapons inspectors and had access to advice from the JIC on the activities of the Iraqi regime.
In his 7 March advice Lord Goldsmith had advised that Mr Blair “would have to consider extremely carefully whether the evidence of non-co-operation and non-compliance by Iraq [was] sufficiently compelling to justify the conclusion that Iraq had failed to take its final opportunity”.
But Mr Blair did not seek and did not receive considered advice from across government specifically examining whether the evidence was “sufficiently compelling” to provide the basis for a judgement of this magnitude and seriousness.
In mid-March, UNMOVIC was reporting increased co-operation, and the IAEA had confirmed that Iraq had no nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons programmes.
The Inquiry has not seen any evidence of consideration of whether the reports by UNMOVIC and the IAEA to the Security Council during January to March 2003 constituted reports to the Council under OP11 of resolution 1441; or whether the subsequent Security Council discussions constituted “consideration” as required by OP12.
There was clearly no majority support in the Security Council for a conclusion that the process set in hand by resolution 1441 had reached the end.
The Report states that the evidence underpinning Blair’s unequivocal view was never made available to the Inquiry.
The Cabinet Office parried my freedom of information request for this evidence for a considerable time. Consequently, I modified my request to seek the official record which should have been made by Blair’s senior civil service advisors (e.g. Rycroft) to provide an audit trail necessary to hold this decision making to account. This is particularly important as, in Goldsmith’s admission, it could be brought before a court.
The absence of any such record denies vital evidence to any investigation by a court of this particular decision making process- working to a civil or criminal prosecution.
It would appear an unarguable example of misconduct by either Blair or his senior civil servants (or both).