John Prescott: Ex-deputy PM says Iraq War was illegal

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Themorningbellbd.com desk, July 10: John Prescott, who was deputy prime minister when Britain went to war with Iraq in 2003, says the invasion by UK and US forces was “illegal”.

Writing in the Sunday Mirror, he said he would live with the “catastrophic decision” for the rest of his life.

Tony Blair has apologised for mistakes he made but has said he stands by his decision to take the country to war.

Meanwhile Tory MP David Davis said he will file a motion to hold the former PM in contempt of Parliament over Iraq.

If the motion is accepted, MPs could debate and vote on whether he is guilty of misleading the House of Commons before the summer recess.

Lord Prescott said Mr Blair’s statement that “I am with you, whatever” in a message to US President George W Bush before the invasion in March 2003, was “devastating”.

He said he now agreed “with great sadness and anger” with former UN secretary general Kofi Annan that the war was illegal.

He also praised Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn for apologising on the party’s behalf.

Tony Blair, former U.K. prime minister, listens during an interview at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., on Tuesday, April 30, 2013. The conference brings together hundreds of chief executive officers, senior government officials and leading figures in the global capital markets for discussions on social, political and economic challenges. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Tony Blair, former U.K. prime minister, listens during an interview at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., on Tuesday, April 30, 2013. The conference brings together hundreds of chief executive officers, senior government officials and leading figures in the global capital markets for discussions on social, political and economic challenges. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“A day doesn’t go by when I don’t think of the decision we made to go to war. Of the British troops who gave their lives or suffered injuries for their country. Of the 175,000 civilians who died from the Pandora’s Box we opened by removing Saddam Hussein,” he went on.

He also expressed his own “fullest apology”, especially to the families of British personnel who died.

The former deputy PM said the Chilcot report had gone into great detail about what went wrong, but he wanted to identify “certain lessons we must learn”.

“My first concern was the way Tony Blair ran Cabinet. We were given too little paper documentation to make decisions,” he wrote.

No documentation was provided to justify Attorney-general Lord Goldsmith’s opinion that action against Iraq was legal, he added.

Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair’s former communications chief, criticised Lord Prescott’s intervention.

He tweeted: “Don’t recall @johnprescott raising all these concerns till now. Odd. And given how certain people stood by him in tough times…”

‘Commons must decide’

Meanwhile Conservative MP Mr Davis told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme that he will file a contempt motion in Parliament on Thursday against Mr Blair.

He said MPs had been misled on five occasions and the “Commons must deliver a verdict”.

“It’s a bit like contempt of court. Essentially by deceit,” he said.

Referring to the 2003 vote to invade Iraq, he added: “If you look just at the debate alone, on five different grounds the House was misled, three in terms of the weapons of mass destruction, one in terms of the UN votes were going, and one in terms of the threat, the risks.”

He said he was not yet sure if he had enough MPs to back the motion but if it was accepted by Speaker of the House John Bercow, it could be debated before Parliament breaks up for the summer recess on 21 July.

He said if Mr Blair was found guilty it was unclear what actions would be taken but “the government could choose to strip him of his Privy Councillorship”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn agreed “Parliament must hold to account, including Tony Blair, those who took us into this particular war.”

Asked if he would back the motion, he told the Marr programme “I haven’t seen it yet, but I think I probably would.”

And speaking on ITV’s Peston on Sunday, SNP MP Alex Salmond also supported the motion, saying it would “effectively deliver a verdict” on Mr Blair.

The report by the UK’s Iraq War inquiry, chaired by Sir John Chilcot, was published last week. It said estimates of the threat posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were presented with a certainty which was not justified.

British troops suffered from inadequate preparation and equipment and plans for the aftermath of the war were “wholly inadequate”, it concluded.

It also said the 2003 invasion was not the “last resort” action presented to MPs and the public, and there was no “imminent threat” from Saddam Hussein.

Mr Blair apologised for any mistakes made but not the decision to go to war.

He told the BBC the world would be “in a worse position” had he not taken the decision to invade Iraq.

But he also said it would be “far better” if he had challenged intelligence on Iraq’s weapons in the run-up to war.

Source: BBC