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|MPs react with fury at 'flimsy case' for invasion
By Rosemary Bennett, Deputy Political Editor
Times of London
May 30, 2003
THE row over Tony Blair’s case for war with Iraq intensified yesterday after one of his own ministers admitted a key government claim about weapons of mass destruction was based on a uncorroborated information.
Labour MPs voiced their fury after Defence Minister Adam Ingram said Mr Blair’s assertion that Saddam Hussein’s military planning would allow him to fire biological and chemical weapons within 45 minutes was based on only one source.
Backbenchers said they were enraged that a central tenet of the Government’s case had been built on such flimsy information. Peter Kilfoyle, the former Defence Minister who is organising the backbench protest on the issue, called on Downing Street to publish the intelligence that was used to build the case for war, or risk Mr Blair being accused of misleading the Commons.
“The only cogent reason that was offered for the war was weapons of mass destruction, which the Government said could be utilised within 45 minutes,” Mr Kilfoyle said. “It seems to me that, at the very least, evidence was used selectively from intelligence reports to fit the case.
“Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Geoff Hoon are all barristers. They know very well a case based on this sort of information would be laughed out of court.” He said failure to prove that the case for war was built on solid ground would “shatter the trust” in the Government.
Tam Dalyell, Father of the House, called on the Prime Minister to come to the Commons and explain himself at the first opportunity.
MPs will get a chance to question the Prime Minister on Wednesday when he returns from a trip to Iraq and summits in St Petersburg and Evian for weekly question time.
However, they also expect him to make a statement on Iraq and the G8 gathering after which they will get a further chance to put their questions.
More than 70 MPs have already signed an early day motion calling on the Government to justify its case for war by publishing the intelligence on which it was based.
Most of the signatories opposed the war in a crucial Commons vote in March. However, the 30 MPs who reluctantly backed the Government in this vote, having opposed military action in a previous debate, will come under pressure to sign up also.
One MP who switched at the last minute to support the Government in March said the whips had constantly referred to the threat posed by Saddam when urging him to change his mind.
“I went through quite a lot of grief with my local party when I change my vote,” he said. “I feel I’ve had the rug pulled out from under my feet.” The MP said he wanted to consult colleagues before making his feelings known in public.
Intelligence sources, who claim they were bullied into beefing up their reports, said they wanted to enlist MPs to help them clear up the matter.
They want backbenchers to ask Mr Blair in the Commons precisely who wrote the final copy of the dossier on Saddam’s weapons programme published on September 24 last year in which the claim about his ability to use chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes was made four times.
They also want to know if the dossier was checked by the Joint Intelligence Committee, the Cabinet Office body which liaises between the intelligence services and ministers.
Labour MPs are eager to secure a debate and vote on the Government’s case for war, but accept they are unlikely to get it easily.
They have approached the Liberal Democrats to see if they would be prepared to use one of their special opposition day debates to question ministers on the case for war.
Failing that, there are plans to table an adjournment debate that requires a minister to answer their allegations.
The Conservatives, who backed the war, are keeping their heads down and have no plans at this stage to question Mr Blair on his use of intelligence. However, the prospect of embarrassing him may prove irresistible. Iain Duncan Smith came under pressure from his own party to offer less unqualified support to the Government.
This is the second row over dossiers of information on Iraq. In February, Downing Street was plunged into embarrassment when it emerged its “intelligence” dossier on Iraq’s internal workings were cobbled together by junior communications unit staff.
Officials were also forced to admit that chunks of the document, which was praised by Colin Powell for its “exquisite detail”, were copied word-for-word from an article by a 29-year-old academic in California.