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Public keen to see Blair punished for Iraq war, says David Davis

Published 10/07/2016

The Iraq War was illegal, according to Lord Prescott who was deputy prime minister at the time of the 2003 invasion
The Iraq War was illegal, according to Lord Prescott who was deputy prime minister at the time of the 2003 invasion

The public want to see Tony Blair punished, a senior Tory has said as MPs prepare a Commons motion to find the former prime minister in contempt of Parliament.

David Davis said "quite a lot" of MPs already support the motion which will claim Mr Blair deceived MPs over the invasion.

He intends to put the motion before Speaker John Bercow on Thursday, and if granted, MPs could debate it on July 18 or 19, before parliament breaks up for the summer.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has indicated he will back the motion, saying he "probably would" support the effort to find a parliamentary way to hold the former prime minister to account.

Mr Davis told the Press Association: "The public want to see something done, there's no doubt about that.

"People are saying when 'is he going to be punished for this?'

"Well, this is a fairly symbolic punishment but nevertheless it does at least give a verdict."

Speaking of the support for the motion, he said: "I think if we phrase it properly in factual terms, I think quite a lot.

"People feel very strongly about this, that parliament was essentially misled into a war which led to terrible consequences both for people in Iraq and the Middle East and indeed back in the West as well with heightened risk of terrorism."

Mr Davis said Mr Blair misled the House on five different counts during the vote to invade Iraq, including over weapons of mass destruction and over the threat and risks.

The long-awaited Chilcot report strongly criticised the way former prime minister Mr Blair took the country to war in 2003 on the basis of "flawed" intelligence with inadequate preparation at a time when Saddam Hussein did not pose an "imminent threat".

Sir John Chilcot also said the way the decision about the legal basis for the war was reached was "far from satisfactory", but the report did not rule on the legality of the military action.

Mr Blair has defended the decision to oust Saddam and insisted that his efforts to form a close relationship with the US had persuaded Mr Bush to pursue a second UN security council resolution, which ultimately was not obtained.

Mr Corbyn told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show: "I urge colleagues to read the Butler report and read the Chilcot report about the way in which Parliament was denied the information it should have had, the way in which there was lack of preparations for the post-invasion situation in Iraq and the way there were assertions of weapons of mass destruction.

"Parliament must hold to account, including Tony Blair, those who took us into this particular war."

Asked if he would back the motion, he said: "I haven't seen it yet, but I think I probably would."

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas was one of the group behind the parliamentary motion, which has been meeting in private for some weeks planning the move.

She said: "The Chilcot report is a damning indictment of Blair's record. It showed that the former prime minster actively deceived Parliament and led this country into a disastrous and bloody war under false pretences.

"I'm joining with fellow MPs to hold Blair to account by tabling a contempt motion which could see him barred from public office and have his privy counsellorship stripped from him."

Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond said the move towards a motion of contempt was supported by MPs from six different political parties.

Asked whether the move was largely symbolic, he told the BBC's Sunday Politics Scotland programme: "Symbolism can be important in terms of parliament's role.

"This doesn't pre-judge or preclude legal action, either criminal from the authorities or civil from the service families. This is about what parliament does if it believes it was misled over a huge issue or systematically misled over a period of time.

But Labour leadership challenger Angela Eagle, who voted for the 2003 war, said she regretted her decision but warned against using Parliament to take "revenge" against Mr Blair.

"I haven't seen the motion yet, we have to make certain that we don't spend our time in Parliament just exacting revenge," she said. "I think Tony Blair has been put, rightly, through the mill about the decisions he took, the Chilcot report did that."

Labour MP Dame Margaret Beckett, who was in the Cabinet at the time of the vote on the war, added: "The people behind this contempt motion were always going to use the Chilcot report for their own ends.

"It is, however, very clear from the Chilcot report that Tony Blair did not lie, did not falsify intelligence and that the Cabinet was not misled on the presentation of the legal advice.

It comes as Labour heavyweight Lord Prescott used his strongest language yet to condemn Mr Blair's decision to take part in the Iraq war, a decision he supported at the time.

The Chilcot report was a "damning indictment of how the Blair government handled the war - and I take my fair share of blame", he said.

He added that cabinet ministers were given "too little paper documentation" to make decisions and intelligence reports were based on "discussions at receptions and prejudiced sources", amounting to "tittle-tattle, not hard evidence".

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