Tony Blair finally expressed regret yesterday for the hundreds of thousands of lives lost during the Iraq invasion, only for his long-awaited words to be met with anger by the families of some of those who lost their lives.
In emotional scenes at the Chilcot inquiry, the former Prime Minister was heckled as he said he regretted “deeply and profoundly the loss of life”.
Calls of “too late” broke out as Mr Blair spoke, with one woman turning her back on him. Two others left. Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon was killed in Basra in 2004, shouted as Mr Blair left the hearing: “Your lies killed my son. I hope you can live with it.”
During his four-and-a-half hours of evidence, Mr Blair shed new light on the extent of the promises he made to George W Bush about Britain's readiness to join in military action. In a candid admission of the assurances he gave the President during meetings and notes sent to him in 2002, Mr Blair said he had made clear Britain would be “up for” joining an invasion if necessary.
“What I was saying to the President was very clear and simple: you can count on us. We are going to be with you on this. I'm not going to back out because the going gets tough,” Mr Blair said he told President Bush. “But here are the difficulties and this is why I think the UN route is the right way to go.”
He also admitted keeping the US President in the dark over Lord Goldsmith, his chief legal adviser, who had initially concluded the March 2003 invasion would be illegal without further clearance from the United Nations. Mr Blair said he had to continue to support the US in military action, even though he knew he may have to withdraw that support if Lord Goldsmith had not changed his mind over the legality of the war at the last minute.
“I was having to hold that line,” he said. “But I wasn't going to be in a position where I stepped back until I knew I had to.”
He said airing the doubts of the former Attorney General may have led the US to believe Britain was wavering in its support.
But he rejected that he had given President Bush a “blank cheque” on dealing with Saddam. He said he should have involved Lord Goldsmith in discussions from an earlier stage, but repeated his claim that he would not have sanctioned the use of force if his Attorney General had ultimately deemed it to be illegal.
Confronted with accusations that he had cut out problematic Cabinet ministers from discussions on Iraq, Mr Blair admitted that many were not given key documents about how Britain's policy on Iraq was evolving.
Mr Blair also continued his attack on Iran, blaming it for destabilising Iraq and suggesting military action may become necessary against the “looming, coming challenge” it posed. He said Iran had to be met with the “requisite determination and, if necessary, force”.
John Brown, whose son Nicholas Brown (34), an SAS sergeant, died north of Baghdad in 2008, said he had sat through Mr Blair's evidence in disgust. “It resembled someone like Al Capone or John Gotti giving evidence in court when he knows he has bought off the judge and jury. The man has got no regrets at all,” he said. “In my view, the only way they are going to nail this guy is in a court of law, being examined by serious barristers. This inquiry is not being rigorous enough. Every time they get him on the hook, they then back off.”
Peter Brierley, whose son Shaun (28) was killed in 2003, added: “To be human, he must have some regrets. I would love to paint him as some sort of monster but he is still a human being and it must affect him. He did look worried and under pressure so it must be taking its toll, not that I regret that. It is no more than he deserves.”