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Impeachment of Tony Blair


Holger Kroll
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Last week the Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price has started a process to impeach Tony Blair because 'he duped us into war'. Impeachment has not been used in the UK for more than 150 years. Is this just a publicity stunt or a serious attempt at getting to the bottom of the events in the run up to the war? Below Adam Price's justification for this unusual move.

Now for the politics of last resort - impeach Tony Blair

Having duped us into war, the prime minister must be held to account

New Labour, new politics - that was the promise. In Blair's own words in his first speech as leader to the Labour party conference: "It means being open. It means telling it like it is. Let's be honest. Straight. Those most in need of hope deserve the truth."

Now, almost a decade later, his words sound like self-parody. And yet there remains a certain resonance about them. Truth is the foundation of democracy. Without truth, there can be no trust, and without trust, politics loses its very legitimacy. And that is the tragedy of what has befallen us all in the last three years of this premiership - alongside the personal tragedies of the 64 British service personnel and 13,000 Iraqis who have paid the highest price for what has become the cruellest of deceptions.

Faced with this charge of having duped us into war, the prime minister responds with a certain injured innocence: "Are people questioning my integrity? Are they saying I lied?" Of course, professional communicators such as the prime minister almost never tell lies. For the most part it's perfectly easy to mislead the public without resorting to that. As Robin Cook wrote in his diary, Blair was "far too clever" for that. Rather than allege there was a real link between Saddam and Bin Laden "he deliberately crafted a suggestive phrase designed to create the impression that British troops were going to Iraq to fight a threat from al-Qaida".

There is more than one way not to tell the truth: half-truths, omissions and deliberate ambiguities can be just as effective as crude lies if the mission is to mislead. All this would still be in the realm of conjecture, of course, if it had not been for the death of David Kelly and Bush's decision to have his own inquiry. Without these unforeseen events we would never have had access to the information revealed through the Butler and Hutton inquiries.

But we do. We now know what Blair knew, and when he knew it, and the contrast with his public statements at the time, which are set out in the report, A Case To Answer, by Dan Plesch and Glen Rangwala, published today. It's on the basis of that report that I am prepared to state - unprotected by parliamentary privilege, unfettered by the rules of parliamentary language and without equivocation - that the prime minister did not tell the truth. Instead he exaggerated, distorted, suppressed and manipulated the information for political ends. This was an organised deception to win over a sceptical parliament and public to the military action he had long ago promised his ally Mr Bush.

The evidence for Blair's duplicity is overwhelming. He claimed in early 2002 that Iraq had "stockpiles of major amounts of chemical and biological weapons" while the assessment of the joint intelligence committee at the time was that Iraq "may have hidden small quantities of agents and weapons". He told the TUC in September 2002 that Saddam "had enough chemical and biological weapons remaining to devastate the entire Gulf region", while the intelligence assessment was that "Saddam has not succeeded in seriously threatening his neighbours".

Blair displayed the most despicable cynicism of all when he warned that "it is a matter of time, unless we act and take a stand before terrorism and weapons of mass destruction come together", even though the government was later forced to admit to the Butler inquiry that "the JIC assessed that any collapse of the Iraqi regime would increase the risk of chemical and biological warfare technology or agents finding their way into the hands of terrorists, and that the prime minister was aware of this". He knew the nightmare scenario he painted would be more, not less, likely if we invaded Iraq, yet he gave the opposite impression to translate anxiety into support for the war.

If he was guilty of mismanagement, miscalculation or mere mistakes then the proper place to hold him to account would be the ballot box. Deliberate misrepresentation, however, is what marks this prime minister out. When Peter Mandelson caused "incorrect information" to be given to the house, and Beverley Hughes admitted giving a "misleading impression", they resigned in accordance with the ministerial code, which states: "Ministers who knowingly mislead parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the prime minister". Unfortunately, the code is silent on what to do with a miscreant prime minister.

His refusal to resign in the face of such evidence is unprecedented. There are strong indications, detailed in the report, that he made a secret agreement with President Bush which is illegal under constitutional law. Yet there are to be no further enquiries, no further comment from the prime minister, and no hope of ever seeing the attorney general's full advice. A motion of no confidence would simply divide the house on party lines and fail to focus on the actions of Blair. And, as John Baron MP recently discovered, accusing another member of misleading the house is deemed "unparliamentary".

Accountability is the lifeblood of democracy. Why should the public bother getting involved in politics if ministers can lead us into war on a false prospectus and not even utter a single word of apology? So what remedy do parliament and people have in these desperate circumstances? Historically, impeachment has been used by parliament against individuals to punish "high crimes and misdemeanours".

One MP is all it takes to make the accusation of high crimes and misdemeanours against a public official for an impeachment process to begin. Once an MP has presented his or her evidence of misconduct to the Commons in a debate, and if a majority of elected members agree there is a case to answer, a committee of MPs is established to draw up articles of impeachment, which will list each charge individually. The case goes before the Lords.

Three centuries ago the Commons called impeachment "the chief institution for the preservation of the government". It has been a key weapon in the long struggle of parliament against the abuse of executive power. It has been revived before, after long periods of disuse, when the executive's hold on power-without-responsibility seemed every bit as total as today.

Today a number of MPs, including myself, are declaring our intention to bring a Commons' motion of impeachment against the prime minister in relation to the invasion of Iraq. This is the first time in more than 150 years that such a motion has been brought against a minister of the crown, and it is clearly not an undertaking we enter into lightly. We do it with regret, but also with resolve. For our first duty is to the people we represent, who feel they were misled, whose trust was betrayed, who have been placed in harm's way by the irresponsible actions of this prime minister. It is in their name that we impeach him. It is in their name, and with all the authority vested in us, that we implore him now to go.

· Adam Price is Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

pricea@parliament.uk

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Several critics point out that the main issue concerns Tony Blair’s 45 minute claim. He used lawyer language but everybody got the impression that the Iraqis had WMD that could hit British civilians within 45 minutes. This is how the press reported it (the impression was that people living in Cyprus were under threat from these weapons) and Blair made no attempt to correct this impression. It later turns out that this 45 minute claim referred to battlefield weapons. Blair is therefore guilty of gross incompetence (he never asked what type of weapons they were) or he mislead (lied) to Parliament. I suspect he was guilty of the second of these offences. However, if you give him the benefit of the doubt and he was just guilty of gross incompetence, he should still resign. As he refuses to do this, I agree with Adam Price that he should be impeached.

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  • 3 weeks later...

The last couple of days has provided more evidence that supports the idea that Blair should be impeached. The UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, explicitly stated that the war against Iraq was “illegal”.

Today saw the revelation by Mark Seddon, a member of the Labour Party NEC, that senior members of the party had meetings with Jan Kavan, President of the UN General Assembly. It was made clear to them that senior officials at the UN, including Kofi Annan, believed strongly that any war without a second resolution would be illegal.

On three occasions in the run-up to the war members of the Labour Party NEC, pointed out to Blair the views of Jan Kavan and Kofi Annan towards the war. He repeatedly refused to consult Annan about these issues. As Mark Seddon points out, this was because he had already been told that the UN considered the proposed war was illegal. Blair, of course, still refuses to publish in full the legal advice given to the government at the time. Although we do know that one leading legal adviser resigned in protest when he refused to accept her advice on the matter.

It is now clear that if the invasion of Iraq was illegal, Blair is guilty of war crimes. However, it seems in our parliamentary democracy, there is no way the prime minister can be held to account for this. It seems to me that impeachment is the only way forward.

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The attempt to impeach the prime minister for his misconduct over the Iraq war highlights the value of using the history of our democracy as a living instrument to preserve freedom today. The idea - first floated in these pages in January and led by Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price - is now supported by his own party, the SNP, the Green party and 20 individual MPs. Matrix Chambers is today giving us their legal opinion on the initiative. Sceptics sneer that the proposal is unrealistic, but the case for it is growing ever stronger.

First, Tony Blair made many statements relating to the Iraq war that we now know were contradicted by the very sources - such as reports from the Joint Intelligence Committee - he claimed to rely on. The list runs to 40 pages in the report I prepared with Glen Rangwala, the WMD expert, for Adam Price.

Second, any reasonable person would conclude that some or all of his statements were misleading. Third, there is a clear constitutional standard requiring ministers to resign for such conduct.

Fourth, the pre-Iraq standard of resignation was applied to the MPs Beverley Hughes and Peter Mandelson. Hughes resigned because she forgot she had received one letter. Mandelson resigned first because he did not give proper information to his civil servants about a private loan, and again because there was a dispute about whether or not he had made a phone call to another minister. A reasonable person would conclude that the prime minister's misleading statements are far more numerous and serious than the above.

Fifth, Blair remains in office, refusing any examination of his conduct. Sixth, if he gets away with it, a new constitutional precedent will have been established, namely that misleading the country is acceptable. Seventh, constitutional authorities such as Erskine May describe how impeachment can be used as a last resort.

http://politics.guardian.co.uk/comment/sto...1309808,00.html

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Dan Plesch repeats the call for impeachment, but in the democratic era the idea that the House of Lords should be able to remove a prime minister is complete nonsense.

In the pre-democratic era impeachment was a way of "liquidating" opponents. Now the ballot box is available for political opponents, and the criminal courts for criminals, which is why a commons select committee recommended abolishing impeachment in 1967. If the opposition wishes to try to remove the prime minister at any time they can move a vote of no confidence, or wait for the general election.

In reality, the impeachment call is just a publicity stunt. Tony Benn says: "The House of Commons voted for the war and MPs are unlikely to go into the lobby to condemn themselves". He could have added that many of us who voted against the war reject any charge that the prime minister acted in bad faith.

In a free society everyone is entitled to oppose their rulers, but using lawyers and lords to try to topple an elected government is fundamentally undemocratic.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Did Tony Blair know the information going into the September 2002 dossier was wrong? Did he lie? These questions are difficult to answer as they rest on personal motive. They raise the bar too high. And yet the answers fit in to a pattern of other deceptions that began a year before the war and have continued to this day.

Back in April 2002, the prime minister committed himself in principle to backing George Bush's plans to remove Saddam Hussein, come what may. Recently leaked documents have confirmed this, and should be set against repeated statements by Blair and his ministers in the run-up to war that military conflict was "not inevitable". Five key deceptions followed Blair's commitment.

1) Saddam could be peacefully disarmed

This focuses on Iraq's 12,000-page declaration handed to Hans Blix and his UN weapons inspections team in December 2002. The idea publicly encouraged by Blair in advance of the declaration was that if only Saddam would "come clean" on weapons of mass destruction, war would be avoided. As the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) has confirmed, Saddam did comply in large measure, if not in all detail, and had, up to a decade before, rid himself of WMD. Therefore the declaration was not the act of defiance and breach of UN resolutions portrayed by Blair and Bush.

2) Foreign governments agreed on the intelligence

This has been one of the UK government's favourite themes but it is simply not true. Many of the primary sources in Iraq were pooled, and much of the raw intelligence - which we now know to have been of dubious quality - was shared. But analysts from foreign intelligence services drew different assessments. The French and Germans had no evidence to show that any of the alleged munitions were even close to being weaponised and they told the British.

3) The war was waged to protect the authority of the UN

This is the new fallback position, the last remaining attempt at a casus belli: that Saddam was in breach of UN resolutions and was thereby bringing the organisation into disrepute. Most UN members preferred Blix to be the judge of that. And in any case, which resolutions was Saddam actually in breach of if he did not have the WMD? Certainly not 1441, which was passed in November 2002. Indeed the non-existence for a decade of WMD raises questions about the lawfulness not just of this war, but also of Blair's first military venture, the Operation Desert Fox air strikes on Iraq in December 1998.

4) The French scuppered the second UN resolution

This arose from a television interview given by President Chirac a week before the war, in which he said: "Whatever the circumstances, France will vote 'no' because she considers this evening that there are no grounds for waging war in order to achieve the goal we have set ourselves, that is to disarm Iraq."

Chirac's position was wilfully misconstrued by Blair and by Jack Straw, who had been informed by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's then ambassador to the UN, that attempts to secure a majority on the security council for a second resolution had foundered. Blair needed a scapegoat for his diplomatic failure, even though he knew France's position was no longer pivotal. When the French ambassador confronted the political secretary of the Foreign Office, Peter Ricketts, he was told: "It's such a gift, we won't stop there." They didn't stop there. Britain went on to assert, as we now know again falsely, that if France and one other permanent member of the security council had come on board, the pressure would have been unsustainable and Saddam would have to have "disarmed".

5) The threat posed by Saddam's WMD was growing

In his address to the nation at the start of the war, Blair stated that the threat posed by Saddam "is real, growing and of an entirely different nature to any conventional threat to our security that Britain has faced before". Blair might have been excused for overstating the intelligence in September 2002, but by the eve of war, as one official told me at the time, the evidence was "going away". The briefing given to Robin Cook in late February by John Scarlett, then head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, confirmed this.

The last formal JIC assessment of WMD had been in December 2002. Blair was happy to make a categorical statement even though he had declined to order a fresh analysis for three months. Lord Butler, in one of the most damaging passages of his report in July, recorded his surprise "that policy makers and the intelligence community did not, as the generally negative results of UNMOVIC inspections became increasingly apparent, re-evaluate in early 2003 the quality of the intelligence."

The British and the Americans knew that Blix's "failure" to find WMD was not the result of lack of effort. They were increasingly concerned that the weapons might after all not exist. In public they did not say so, knowing the damage that would cause politically and legally.

Within a couple of months of war ending, Straw was already admitting that stockpiles would not be found. Blair held out with the line: wait until the ISG has reported. For all the apologies, non-apologies and semi-apologies about the intelligence on WMD, the ISG's report, the Butler findings and other evidence show that the falsehoods in the September 2002 dossier were anything but an aberration.

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  • 1 month later...

Michael White, political editor

Thursday November 25, 2004

The Guardian

http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics...1359016,00.html

Boris Johnson and George Galloway were among 23 MPs of all parties who yesterday signed a unique motion calling for parliament to impeach the prime minister over Iraq.

Joining them were celebrity campaigners from both sides of the political spectrum.

The authors Frederick Forsyth and Iain Banks, actors Susan Wooldridge and Corin Redgrave, and musician Brian Eno all went to Westminster to show their support. But the man who paved the way for the first attempt to impeach a prime minister for almost 200 years is a less familiar face.

The political journey that took the Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price, 36, from a Labour childhood in south-west Wales to yesterday's launch passes through the miners' strike as well as the Iraq war.

One of the brightest of a new generation of heterodox politicians outside the mainstream parties, the MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr discovered early on that he had inherited the rhetorical skills of a famous ancestor, the evangelical preacher Evan Roberts. But the MP abandoned the church for socialism when he reached the age of 15.

His father, Rufus, a miner at Bettws colliery, became a member of the A Team, an elite squad of flying pickets in 1984. His English mother, Ruth, was secretary of the local support group. The bitter experience of the strike turned him from Neil Kinnock's modernising Labour into the arms of Plaid.

"I was a socialist before I was a nationalist. Even in the 1980s, Labour was shifting to the right. Boy, have they shifted," he recalled yesterday.

Mr Price's motion asks the Speaker, Michael Martin, to set up a committee to investigate Mr Blair's conduct in the run-up to war, and decide if there are grounds to impeach him for "gross misconduct".

It is the first such occasion since 1806, when Henry Dundas, an ally of William Pitt the Younger, faced impeachment for financial misconduct in the French wars. Impeachment started as a medieval procedure that dropped into disuse for two centuries until revived by parliament against Charles I's overmighty ministers. Thanks to the emergence of collective cabinet responsibility, cleaner government and ministerial codes of conduct, it again fell into decay.

But it still exists. "It's meant to be the prime minister who enforces the convention that ministers resign when they mislead the house. But the ministerial code has no statutory force," said Mr Price. "What happens when it is the premier who has misled?"

Before winning his perennially marginal seat from Labour in 2001, the local boy made good ran an economics research firm with a £1m turnover. He cites the left-led resurgence of rural Emilia Romagna as a small business economy as the model for Wales, not top-down Labour.

He is also unusual enough to credit a Guardian article by the military analyst Dan Plesch as his inspiration. "I was just Googling and I found it," he recalls.

Over coffee in the Commons, the pair mount the case against Mr Blair with passion and detail. "What Blair said was contradicted by intelligence he had at the time," said Mr Price. "It amounts to negligence and recklessness, a close cousin to Clare Short's phrase 'honourable deceit'," said Mr Plesch. "He may have been sincere; the issue is whether he misled us," said the MP.

The reality is that, if Mr Martin grants a debate on the committee plan (Charles Kennedy will test the proposition separately on Tuesday night), Labour loyalist votes are unlikely to let it get far, let alone to impeachment articles and a full-blown trial before the Lords. Mr Price insists it is about accountability. "On top of civilian deaths he has also corroded public trust in the democratic process and parliament. It was there before, it is now multiplied by 10."

Mr Price's mercurial brilliance does not inspire universal confidence among Plaid colleagues. As an ex-Labour, working-class outsider whose fluent Welsh came late, and who reached nationalism via the economic, not the middle-class cultural, road, he admits he is a risky proposition.

"Being an outsider gives me space to be a little bit creative with my politics. You have to take risks to be creative."

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  • 1 year later...

General Sir Michael Rose was adjutant general of the British army and commander of the UN protection force in Bosnia. Yesterday he called for Tony Blair to be impeached:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1682755,00.html

Tuesday January 10, 2006

The Guardian

Wars are won when the people, government and army work together for a common cause in which they genuinely believe. Whereas the people may be initially uncertain about military intervention, politicians will often be the strongest advocates - blinded by the imperatives of their political views. It will invariably be military commanders who are most cautious about using force - for they understand better than most the consequences of engaging in war.

Although in a true democracy they must remain subordinate to their political masters, they have a clear responsibility to point out when political strategies are flawed or inadequately resourced. Since they might also have to ask their soldiers to sacrifice their lives, they must be assured that a war is just, legal and the last resort available. Yet three years ago this country was somehow led by the prime minister into war in Iraq where few, if any, of these requirements were met.

Most importantly a clear justification for the war in Iraq was never sufficiently made by Tony Blair - for the intelligence he presented was always embarrassingly patchy and inconsistent. What is more, his unequivocal statement to the House of Commons that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction that could be used within 45 minutes was made without being properly validated - for it was decided in Washington and London to launch the invasion of Iraq early, on the basis of the flimsy evidence available. This was done without asking the UN weapons inspectors, who were actually on the ground in Iraq, to investigate this allegation. Ultimately, as the inspectors suspected and as we now all know, it turned out that there were no such weapons. Britain had been led into war on false pretences. It was a war that was to unleash untold suffering on the Iraqi people and cause grave damage to the west's prospects in the wider war against global terror.

Nevertheless, today the prime minister seeks to persuade the world that the war was justifiable because Saddam Hussein was toppled and there now exists in Iraq a slender hope of democracy. The Iraqi elections are a creditable achievement by the coalition forces. But it must be remembered that a general election was previously held in Iraq in 1956, and within two years the country had fallen under military rule. Without adequate security and the necessary democratic institutions in place, there are absolutely no long-term guarantees that democracy will endure.

Before the invasion, regime change was never cited as a reason for going to war. Indeed, Mr Blair insisted that regime change was not, nor ever could be, a reason for going to war. Had such a justification been fully debated in parliament, it is exceedingly unlikely that the necessary political support would have been forthcoming. It was the apparent need to defend ourselves against a dire threat - so vividly described by Mr Blair in the Commons - that finally won the political argument.

During the build-up to war and since, most of the electorate of this country have consistently opposed the decision to invade. People have seen their political wishes ignored for reasons now proved false. But there has been no attempt in parliament to call Mr Blair personally to account for what has transpired to be a blunder of enormous strategic significance. It should come as no surprise therefore that so many of this country's voters have turned their backs on a democratic system they feel has so little credibility and is so unresponsive.

One obvious way of re-engaging these disaffected voters would be for parliament to accept that it wrongly supported the war - but only because it believed what Mr Blair told them. Now it is clear that parliament was misled by Mr Blair, either wittingly or unwittingly, parliament should also call on him for a full explanation as to why he went to war. It is not a sufficient excuse for Mr Blair to say that he acted in good faith and that his decisions were based on the intelligence he had been given. For it is the clear responsibility of people in his position to test intelligence. No intelligence can ever be taken at face value. Indeed it is negligent so to do.

Parliament should therefore ascertain how far the prime minister did evaluate intelligence regarding WMD and how he assessed the reliability of the many sources that provided that intelligence. It should ask him what corroborating evidence there was for his specific statement about WMD - and why more use was not made of the UN inspectors on the ground in Iraq to test the validity of that statement. It should inquire just how much he discounted the mass of intelligence that came in from the Iraqi National Congress - a body that had a vested interest in removing Saddam from power. The list of possible questions is huge and would no doubt be usefully expanded during any hearings.

Mr Blair is an able barrister who should relish the opportunity to put his side of the case. No one can undo the decision to go to war. But the impeachment of Mr Blair is now something I believe must happen if we are to rekindle interest in the democratic process.

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