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When Brown feared that Blair wouldn’t go ahead with Iraq

John Rentoul

tbpm 224x300 When Brown feared that Blair wouldnt go ahead with IraqThe UK’s participation in the invasion of Iraq was briefly in doubt, nine days before the bombing began, a hesitation that I discuss in the Afterword to the new edition of Tony Blair: Prime Minister, to be published on Thursday. I chose that day, 11 March 2003, as the focus of the exclusive extract in The Independent on Sunday.

It was known at the time that something odd was happening, because Donald Rumsfeld, US Defense Secretary, said at a news conference that the UK might not be able to take part, but that “there are work-arounds”. That was soon forgotten, because Tony Blair insisted in the House of Commons the next day: “I am determined to hold firm to the course that we have set out.”

It was not until Lord Goldsmith’s evidence to the Chilcot inquiry, and the fourth volume of Alastair Campbell’s diary, published a year ago, that it was established quite how reluctant the Attorney General had been to give his unequivocal advice that British military action would be lawful.

For 24 hours, as I write in Sunday’s extract, Gordon Brown had been alarmed by the prospect of Blair’s being hailed as the hero of peace-loving Europe, and worried that Blair might use his revived popularity to make another push to adopt the euro and even to renege on the deal Brown thought they had struck to hand over power in 2004.

In the book, I use this brief glimpse of an alternative history of the Iraq war to analyse Blair’s thinking. Although Goldsmith had not finally decided – doubts that had been communicated to Rumsfeld – Blair did not waver. A more flexible politician might have taken the chance to stay on the safe side of his party and public opinion. But there was no prospect of that.

My esteemed colleague Steve Richards thinks Blair took the “conventional” view, that Britain should stick with America, and became locked into that position. I disagree. I think he believed that Britain’s part in the invasion of Iraq was in the national interest, and that “his motive throughout”, as I say in the book, “lay somewhere between the patriotic and the noble”.

Tony Blair: Prime Minister, with new 20,000-word Afterword, is published by Faber Finds as an e-book and paperback on 20 June. The book will be launched at 6.30pm on 2 July at the Mile End Group, Queen Mary, University of London, with a short talk, Q&A and drinks reception. If you would like to attend, email meg@qmul.ac.uk.

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  • JohnRentoul

    Tony Blair, primarily, I imagine.

  • http://www.pearshapedcomedy.com Anthony Miller

    Clever use of “unequivocal” advice. ‘a court might well conclude that operative paragraphs 4 and 12 do require a further Council decision in order to revive the
    authorisation.’ Very unequivocal. Better is the bit that the cabinet did not see (according to both Lords Boetang & Lord Prescott) “the argument that resolution 1441 alone has revived the authorisation to use force in resolution 678 will only be sustainable if there are strong factual grounds for concluding that Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity. In other words, we would need to be able to demonstrate hard evidence of non-compliance and non-cooperation.” No wonder Prescott said he was “not a happy bunny”. Sounds more quivering than unequivocal.

    “I use this brief glimpse of an alternative history of the Iraq war” …. “Tony Blair: Prime Minister, with new 20,000-word Afterword” You’re wasted in journalism, Mr R. You should pootle off down Marvel comics where they might find better uses for your skills in retroactive continuity or perhaps Quintin Tarantino could make use of you in constructing one of his famous non-linear narratives…? Always so many unknown unknowns … that we didn’t know.

    As to the “4th volume” of Alistair Campbell’s diaries … even Jane Austin only needed 3 volumes to tell a story…

  • greggf

    The pic makes it look like it’s about John Rentoul by Tony Blair….!

  • Pacificweather

    The world famous lawyer?

  • Pacificweather

    My esteemed colleague Steve Richards thinks Blair took the “conventional” view, that Britain should stick with America, and became locked into that position. I disagree. I think he believed that Britain’s part in the invasion of Iraq was in the national interest, and that “his motive throughout”, as I say in the book, “lay somewhere between the patriotic and the noble”

    In this I agree with you. His motive throughout was between the patriotic and the noble in his boy’s own comic fantasy worldview. He is not the first Prime Minister to have that fantasy and he won’t be the last to damage and shame us as a nation.


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