Tony Blair yesterday claimed at the Chilcot Inquiry that he ‘regrets deeply and profoundly the loss of life’ in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
His words were greeted with cries of ‘too late’ and jeers from the Iraq Inquiry’s public gallery.
Blair repeated his 2003 warning about the alleged ‘looming’ threat from Iraq during the four hour session.
Earlier, he admitted that he had privately assured US President Bush ‘you can count on us’ eight months before the Iraq war.
However, Blair said the April 2002 meeting with Bush at Crawford, Texas, ‘did not result in an alteration of policy’.
The private notes between Blair and Bush will remain secret, despite calls for it to be published by Iraq Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot.
Blair also conceded that he disregarded then Attorney General Lord Goldsmith’s warning that attacking Iraq would be illegal without further UN backing, claiming he did this because he considered Goldsmith’s advice to be ‘provisional’.
Blair further claimed that he had believed his top legal officer would change his position on whether a second UN resolution, justifying force, was needed.
Chilcot repeated his earlier statement that the panel was ‘disappointed’ that the government would not allow the public release of statements Blair made in July 2002 to Bush and the then US Defence Secretary Rumsfeld, despite the panel being allowed to see them.
Blair said that he was ‘not going to hide behind the cabinet secretary’ and paraphrased the note, saying he had told Bush: ‘You can count on us, we are going to be with you in tackling this, but there are the difficulties.’
Blair said that the message he wanted to get across was ‘whatever the political heat, if I think this is the right thing to do I am going to be with you, I am not going to back out if the going gets tough. On the other hand, here are the difficulties and the UN route is the right way to go’.
He told the Inquiry he ‘would be astonished’ if his cabinet had not known military preparations were under way in 2003.
He said: ‘I was trying to hold that line in circumstances where it was very difficult’ and if UK legal rows had emerged it would have wrecked ongoing negotiations.
Blair told the Inquiry that if he had ‘started to articulate’ legal doubts ‘saying “I cannot be sure”, the effect of that on the Americans, the coalition and most importantly on Saddam would have been dramatic’.
The Inquiry also released a note from Blair to Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff, shortly before his April 2002 visit to Bush’s ranch, in which he argued that Labour ‘should be gung-ho against Saddam’ from ‘a centre-left perspective’, the case for action against the Iraqi leader should be ‘obvious’.