The Downing Street memo

“We should work on the assumption that the UK will take part in any military action.”
Roderick Lyne quoting the official record of the 23 July 2002 Downing Street meeting.

“That was the conclusion of the meeting.”
Matthew Rycroft, author of the record

The Downing Street memo is a note of a meeting on 23 July 2002 to discuss UK involvement in the US invasion of Iraq.

The memo shows that in July 2002 a select group of ministers and officials was discussing UK participation in the US invasion of Iraq, which was reported to be seen as “inevitable” in Washington. The conclusion of the meeting was that “We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action. But we needed a fuller picture of US planning before we could take any firm decisions.” This suggests that ministers’ only remaining concern was the viability of US military plans.

In September 2010, the memo’s author, Matthew Rycroft, was seen by the Inquiry in a secret hearing. A redacted record of the session has been published. It notes that “a version of [the memo] has appeared in the public domain”.

What was the objective?

The memo also provides further evidence that Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction were a pretext for war rather than the government’s main concern. Discussion of the issue is literally secondary. Jack Straw is quoted as saying that “the case was thin”. Attorney general Lord Goldsmith warned that a desire for regime change was not a legal basis for military action. In response to these comments, Tony Blair commented that: “If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.”

Making the case

Richard Dearlove, who was the head of MI6 and known as “C”, reported that in Washington “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” of removing Saddam Hussein through military action. It has been suggested that this represents an expression disapproval but this is not necessarily the case. It may have been a suggestion that the British government would have to do the same.

Questions arising from the memo


Did the Butler Review see and accurately report the memo?

It seems clear that the Butler Review did see the memo in that it gives an account of the meeting but this account is limited and, if it is based on the memo highly selective and misleading. Read more

When was a definitive decision taken?

The memo states that a firm decision would need to be taken when US military plans were known. It is not clear when such a decision was taken.

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