NORMAL government structures were shut down as Blair and his Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, lied and deceived in order to push the Cabinet into supporting the Iraq war, Clare Short said yesterday.
She told the Chilcot Inquiry that she was frozen out of all decision making and, when she tried to raise questions, was ‘jeered at’.
Blair had made promises to her, she said, to stop her from resigning from the cabinet at the same time as Robin Cook.
‘He conned me,’ said Short.
‘We’ve made Iraq more dangerous’, as well as causing the Iraqi people suffering, said Short.
The Chilcot team questioned Short about her role as government minister at the Department for International Development (DFID) before and immediately after the war.
She was excluded from the discussion on the ‘new Iraq policy framework’ and told the inquiry: ‘The Cabinet doesn’t work and didn’t the whole time I was in government according to the constitutional theory of how it’s supposed to work.’
She said there wasn’t any ‘serious’ decision making at the Cabinet and didn’t recall any ‘substantive discussion’ on Iraq.
‘If there was anything you wanted to discuss in Cabinet, Tony Blair would see you before the Cabinet and cut it off,’ she said.
She said she began to raise concerns about Iraq in July 2002, as press speculation about war grew.
‘He (Blair) said I promise to talk to you about Iraq, no decisions have been made, but I don’t want to talk about it in the Cabinet because it might leak to the press.’
But it was Blair, through his press secretary Alastair Campbell, who was briefing the press all the time, she added.
During a trip to Mozambique, she said she told Blair ‘we should make progress on Palestine’, in order to get other Arab governments on their side ‘to help us with Iraq’.
‘He said on the military – I haven’t had any presentation, I will keep you informed. I think factually that has now since been shown to be untrue. I have a diary . . . I can show you.’
She added that Blair had deceived the public on weapons of mass destruction.
She had seen Foreign Office intelligence and knew it said that Iraq didn’t have nuclear weapons and there was no new, ‘imminent threat’.
‘I was asking again for a meeting about strategy and we couldn’t get it, so it was obvious there was some block on communications.’
‘Suddenly’, Short continued, she was prevented from talking to the intelligence agencies ‘about what was going on, what was the risk’.
She was only allowed to talk to them eventually after she ‘made a fuss’.
But by then ‘it was clear normal communications agencies were being closed down.
‘I saw the paper intelligence. I don’t think No.10 knew I saw it or it would have started a row,’ she added.
‘We got the paper in the end on the risk of the use of chemical and biological weapons, which said it was uncertain . . . there wasn’t an antidote we could get anyway.
‘But everything that’s happened since makes me realise there was deliberate blockage and secretive meetings.
‘Phone calls with George Bush that would normally be minuted – all those structures were closed down, so the normal structures of Whitehall started to be closed down.
‘There was no real discussion in the Cabinet . . . The discussions in Cabinet were little chats about what had been in the media that week. There was never a meeting that said what’s the problem, what are we trying to achieve, what are our military, diplomatic options, we never had that coherent discussion . . .
‘There was no imminent threat, there was no reason why it had to be as quick as it was . . . it was all done on a wing and a prayer.’
She said about the ‘dodgy dossier’ on Iraq’s non-existent WMD: ‘There was a discussion that went around on the dossier and I was asked if I wanted to engage and I said no. I decided to stay out of that one.’
She added that ‘everything’s for the media. The House of Commons is now a rubber-stamp, it doesn’t even finish scrutinising bills before they go off to the Lords – I think the machinery of government now is unsafe. In the case of Iraq there was secretiveness and deception on top of that.
‘There were no minutes. It’s simply not a way to proceed . . . departments are completely excluded from the discussion they don’t know what the government’s planning. It’s completely chaotic.
‘The Downing St memo tells it all. Blair had given his word he was in favour of regime change and would be with Bush.’
If you did what Blair wanted, said Short, then ‘Alastair wouldn’t brief against you’ to the press.
‘I got the message I shouldn’t challenge in the Cabinet, I was making myself unpopular.’
Short said she hadn’t been shown the Iraq ‘Options Paper’ presented to a select gathering at Chequers, before Blair’s infamous visit to Crawford, Texas, to see George . Bush in March 2002.
‘The Foreign Office had some famous Arabists, she added. ‘They were seen as dangers and never consulted.
‘He and I (Alastair Campbell) never got on. He briefed against you and that’s how the government worked.’
But she stressed: ‘I believed what the stated policy was. I believed the sanctions were causing so much suffering in Iraq we just couldn’t go on.’
Short was also adamant that the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith ‘misled the cabinet’.
‘By then everything was very fraught,’ she said.
‘I was stunned,’ she said, when the Cabinet was presented with Goldsmith’s advice just before the war, that it was legal.
‘I thought this is the Attorney General coming in the teeth of war to the Cabinet, he must be right, and I think he was misleading us.’
She said the Attorney General himself ‘was excluded from a lot of meetings. Exclusion is a form of pressure – and then it was suggested to him that he go to the United States to get advice about the legal position.’
Short said it ‘seems extraordinary’ that Goldsmith should go to Washington of all places to get advice about international law, when America was ready to ignore the United Nations and go to war.
‘To say they shouldn’t go back to the Security Council for a decision is extraordinary.
‘I think all that was leaning on. Sending him to America, excluding him.
‘I think in changing his mind three times in a couple of weeks and in order to say unequivocally there was legal authority – to call on Tony Blair to secretly sign a document saying Iraq was in material breach and not to report any of that to the cabinet is so extraordinary – and both he and Tony Blair said the Cabinet were given a chance to ask questions. That is untrue.
‘That was first time he had come to the Cabinet that I knew of. He sat in Robin Cook’s seat, Robin Cook didn’t come to the Cabinet, I don’t know why not.
‘There was a paper on every seat. That was the parliamentary question answer. He started reading it out.
‘I said why is it so late, why did you change your mind and they were all saying: “Clare Short!’’ I was jeered to be absolutely quiet and that’s what happened.
‘If he won’t answer and the prime minister is saying be quiet, there’s no discussion, there’s only so much you can do.
‘The then attorney to be fair to him says he was ready to answer questions.
‘I did ask him later because it was only the morning War Cabinet he did come to.
‘I asked him privately why was it so late and he said “Oh, it takes a long time to take my mind up.”’
Short told the inquiry they should check ‘the Cabinet Secretary notes’ and the notes of another secretary who also recorded meetings.
‘I was stunned by his advice, but in the teeth of war the Attorney General of the United Kingdom coming to cabinet to give legal advice, this is a very serious, monumental thing, but that’s his advice and we must accept it.’