Blair’s Iraq inquiry appearance as-it-happened

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By Ian Dunt and Alex Stevenson

08:23 – Good morning, and welcome to what’s sure to be a long, dramatic, and some are even saying historic day in Westminster. Tony Blair has already arrived, in a surprising move designed to wrong-foot the protestors waiting outside. He got there about 07:30, two hours before his appearance was set to begin.

08:34 – Our reporter on the scene says a group of cheerleaders are causing considerable mirth on the outskirts of the protest, with chants of: “Give us a W, give us an M, give us a D”. He estimates the main protest outside at about two to three hundred people. “Tony Blair, where are you, I will hit you with my shoe,” the crowds chant.

08:43 – Interesting, but largely predictable comments from former home secretary David Blunkett on the Today programme just now. “I don’t think Tony Blair today will have any equivocation, because he believed he was right and he still does,” he said. “If he went into it with any equivocation he shouldn’t be doing it.” On Blair’s concern for his public image: “I like to be loved a lot more than he does.”

08:45 – Interesting report in the Times this morning citing a source “familiar with the former prime minister’s thinking”. Blair will go further than ever before in admitting “errors of execution”, apparently. Blair “thinks about these decisions he made six or seven years ago every day – it will always be there,” the source continues.

08:53 – There’s a good report on the questions Blair has to answer over at the New Statesman while Michael Mansfield QC is up to similar business back at the Times. Mansfield is tough on the inquiry, which he describes as a “rapid skate over extraordinarily thin ice”. He also maps out the main points of interest very well: “In the main they relate to the legality of the war; the relationship with George W. Bush; the integrity of the intelligence; secrecy surrounding the decision; forward planning for deployment of the Armed Forces; and the provision of protection and reconstruction for the Iraqi civilian population.”

09:07 – Our correspondent inside the conference centre says it’s all pretty sedate. Everyone is sitting around, reading papers. Security seems fine. All very calm. Overhead, the police helicopters can be heard throughout parliament, where I’m typing this. Security was ramped up to deal with the combination of events in London this week, including the Yemen conference on Wednesday, the Afghanistan conference yesterday and, of course, Blair’s appearance today.

09:19 – And Armando Iannucci, writer/director of probably the best anti-war film concerning Iraq, In The Lopp, has an excellent piece in the Independent. “Donald Rumsfeld weeded out from those going to help the reconstruction of Iraq anyone who could speak Arabic, on the grounds they would be pro-Arab,” he writes. “As a result, it took the Americans 18 months to realise that when marines held up the flat of their hand to oncoming cars to signal them to stop, they were actually using the Iraqi hand-signal for ‘come forward’. That’s why so many families in cars were shot.”

09:26 – There’s a lot of criticism of Blair for entering through the side door without having to face protestors. Here’s Lindsey German, convener of the Stop The War Coalition: “He doesn’t have the decency or honesty to face up to the public, military families, and Iraqis who will be here today in huge numbers to show their opposition to the war. He does not have the integrity to come and face the people. Sliding in by a back door entrance is typical of his lies, deceit and evasion.”

09:31 – The panel arrives, and Sir John Chilcot reminds the audience that he expects good behaviour from them, and that it’s important Blair has the opportunity to answer questions. He doesn’t appear particularly nervous. They wait in silence. He arrives. It’s strange to see and hear him. Chilcot welcomes those watching the hearing, live or on TV or the internet.

09:33 – Chilcot reminds us that the inquiry aims to get to the heart of why we went to war and what lessons can be learnt. He also reminds us that the families of some of those who died are in the audience. The inquiry is not a trial, he says. Blair appears healthy and confident. He is perfectly still. The first questions will be focused on the evolution of strategy. Afterwards, we’ll look at how the policy was presented to parliament and the British people. Then we’ll look at planning, aftermath, and the reality on the ground, before looking at the deterioration of security and the violence that dominated the country after the invasion.

09:36 – Sir Roderic – the toughest questioner – begins the questions. He wants to know how the strategy towards Iraq was formulated. He reminds us about the containment strategy which operated since 1991. He says it had prevented Saddam Hussein from threatening his neighbours, but reminds us there were concerns about his capabilities. He also reminds us of the growing unpopularity of sanctions. The policy adopted by the UK and US in 2001 was to reinforce the strategy, “to strengthen it”.

09:39 – Before 9/11, what view did Blair take of containment? Blair says it’s right to divide policy before and after 9/11. He says beforehand Saddam was a major problem. There were breaches of the no-fly zone. There was an attempt to enforce ‘smart sanctions’. He reminds the panel the first military action he took was against Saddam in 1998, with Bill Clinton. He describes the pre-9/11 policy as “hoping for the best”. After 9/11, the “calculus of risk changed”. Sir Roderic asks if up to 9/11, the view was that it was working but it was expensive? Blair says the sanctions were eroding. The smart sanctions weren’t getting support pre-9/11. “We were in a bit of a difficulty there.”

09:43 – He hadn’t broken out his box, but there were holes in it – that’s Sir Roderic’s metaphor for the situation. Blair accepts it. He then reminds the panel that after 9/11 the UK and US view changed dramatically. “Straight after 9/11, in the statement I made to the Commons, I specifically dealt with… weapons of mass destruction,” Blair says. The point about 9/11 was that over 3,000 people had been killed, “a horrific event”. If those people, inspired by religious fanaticism could have killed 30,000 they would have. He compares it to IRA terrorism. “The terrorism that an organisation like the IRA were engaged in was directed towards a political purpose, maybe unjustified but it was within a political framework you could understand.” 9/11 taught him you couldn’t take risks with this issue at all.

09:48 – From 9/11 onwards, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Iraq, “all of this had to brought to an end”. I forgot how cogent and effective a speaker Blair is. His ability to convince is exceptional. Blair admits not much had changed with Iraq, but that perception had changed – identical to Jack Straw’s response. Sir Roderic asks if containment remained a “sustainable strategy”. Blair puts on his glasses. He discusses the change in sanctions, and how Saddam how broken the previous framework. He said Saddam received money for food and medicine, but he wasn’t doing that. Sanctions had become unpopular, and Saddam had been successful in blaming the west for the sanctions.

09:51 – Blair refers to a March options paper, which is in the public domain. “I’m not certain offhand if it has been declassified by the government which was elected under your leadership,” Sir Roderic says. Laughter. Blair continues on smart sanctions. The whole issue on the previous sanctions had been his ability to get stuff in through the borders of surrounding countries. As a strategy, in 2002, did Blair see the new smart sanctions as something which could be sustained over the medium term. Blair said it was more likely it wouldn’t work. No fly zones were causing us difficulty. Trade sanctions were a vital part of him getting material in. Containment through sanctions had been eroding, the new sanctions had been watered down to get it through the UN, in regards to trade restrictions, which Blair brands “vital”.

09:57 – Sir Roderic summarises. Containment was weak. Blair didn’t like it. What were his other strategic options? Blair says he called for an options paper. It could be confronted by sanctions, Saddam allowing inspectors back in and compliance with UN resolutions. Or the option of removing Saddam was there. “That option had always been there,” Blair says. after 9/11, the Americans and Brits realised “we couldn’t go on like this”.

09:59 – “Just had a collective chuckle here as emergency instructions came over the tannoy, ending with ‘thank you for listening, please enjoy the rest of your event’,” our correspondent in the QE2 says. The options paper (March) came before a meeting with George Bush (April), Blair says. Was Blair getting good advice from experts, were there people challenging the paper? Blair says the one thing he found through this whole matter, was that people always challenged him. Robin Cook and Clarke Short objected. “Thery weren’t at the Chequers meeting,” Sir Roderic said. He tells Blair he didn’t bring the options paper to cabinet and that Clare Short complained she never got it. Blair’s voice rises slightly as Sir Roderic becomes more robust.

10:05 – Sir Roderic says that by April 2002 Blair was attracted to the idea of changing the Iraq regime through a philosophy of humanitarian intervention which he expressed at the Chicago speech and later at the presidential library.

10:10 – Blair quoting himself (the Texas speech) is quite irritating, given that he treats it as a religious text. Sir Roderic reminds him of the Fern Britton interview, where he said it was right to invade, even if there were no WMDs. “This is an interview given some weeks before the inquiry began”. Sir Roderic denies this, but Blair said the interview was filmed before the public hearing began. He seems to backtrack. “It was in no sense a change of position.” WMD “was the cause. It was then and it remains”. Interesting stuff. Huge backtrack there.

10:15 – Blair repeats this ‘calculus of risk’ argument around 9/11. But his argument for it is about religious fanaticism, and Saddam was not connected to Al-Qaeda. His other arguments, about the inter-connectivity of security risks, relate to before 9/11. Chilcott says two declassified document from last night will be put up on the website. Baroness Usha Prashar takes over from Sir Roderic.

10:19 – From our correspondent in the conference hall (not the inquiry room itself): “Protestor just got up on chair and shouted ‘I’m sorry but I can’t stomach this anymore, I’m going to go and make a non-violent citizens’ arrest.’ Everyone hushed him and told him to shut up and he left voluntarily.” Back to Blair. “This was very quickly becoming the key issue. People were moving on from Afghanistan. It was always going to be the key issue after September 11th,” He says. Very strange. Why should it be Iraq, which was not connected to 9/11?

10:25 – Blair said it was important to him to get the international community on the same page. After 9/11 people got behind the Americans, but he knew the American mindset and his changed dramatically, while many European leaders’ hadn’t. The UN route wasn’t just important legally and politically, but also because he didn’t want America to feel “it had no option but to do it on its own”. Was that what he wanted to achieve at Crawford. Blair says his main aim was to understand what the Americans wanted to do and then to think about UK strategy in light of that. What did Blair and Bush decide at discussions where no advisors attended? Baroness Usha asks. Blair says it’s important to build a strong relationship with a US president. The discussion wasn’t about specifics. It was mostly about the “various different dimensions of this whole issue” he says. “We were agreed we had to confront this issue,” he goes on. “The method for doing that is open.” Bush expressed “fear” that if we weren’t prepared to act in a “really strong way we ran the risk of sending a disastrous signal out to the world”.

10:30 – Blair said his commitment to Bush was not private, it was public. “The position was not a covert position. It was an open position,” Blair says. But what did Bush understand from Blair’s correspondence? “He took it to mean what I said, which was that we would be with them in dealing with this threat. “Blair says there were conditions on UK support. “This was an alliance, not a contract.” Fascinating stuff. He reminds the panel how hard it was to get Clinton in on Kosovo. Baroness Usha reminds Blair that Sir Christopher Meyer said rather different things. “Sir Christopher wasn’t there at this meeting,” Blair replies. He’s reminded that he was briefed, and Blair smiles. Sir Christopher, who has got a hard time from many witnesses at this inquiry, was clearly out of the loop – or at least that’s the impression Blair just tried to give.

10:36 – “Force was always an option,” Blair says again. But then 9/11 happened and the decision was made to remove him. Baroness Usha is being tougher here than she has been the whole inquiry. Sir Roderic takes over. He told Bush that if the UN route failed the UK would still be with him, Sir Roderic suggests. Blair says that’s true. Sir Roderic says we’ll leave the legal implications of that sentence to one side until later.

10:41 – Bush didn’t repay Blair’s support by acting decisively in the Middle East peace process, Sir Roderic suggests. Blair is cautious. “It was difficult to persuade Bush and indeed America that this was such a fundamental question. The Americans tend to view these issues as separate,” Blair says. “Truthfully with the intifada still raging it would have been very difficult to get this thing together again.” He goes on: “These are not divisible problems.” Sir Roderic is confused that the Americans wouldn’t be able to see the connection. “There was a tendency to see these things separately,” Blair repeats. “I wished we would have made better and faster progress on Israel-Palestine.” But he admits he didn’t make it a precondition.

10:46 – Blair uses the opportunity to say that most Middle East leaders were glad to see “the back of Saddam”, but that they were concerned about the aftermath. For good reason, given what we know now. The inquiry takes a break. And so will we, until about 11:05 GMT.

11:09 – Well they still haven’t started back up yet. The break is taking longer than expected. The main points of note so far are Blair’s firm conviction that Crawford was not a turning point, his mark of disrespect for Sir Christopher Meyer, his admittance that he wished the Middle East process had moved quicker and more successfully and his assertion that war was always an option. OK, the panel have sat back down, as has Blair.

11:11 – Blair begins to explain how he feels during conflicts, but Baroness Usha interrupts and asks him to stick to Iraq. He says the first thing he does is ask the armed forces. Did Bush ever ask the scale of the UK contribution? “No, he very much left this to us,” Blair replies. “This was something that if it was right to do it mattered to have Britain there.” Baroness Usha said it could have been a lesser scale contribution. Blair says if you believe it’s right, it’s best for “Britain to be there right alongside”. “If you believe it’s right we should be prepared to play our part fully.” It’s important, when he says things like this, to remember the bereaved families of those killed in the war are in that small room, just metres away from him.

11:17 – Influence wasn’t an important part of the decision then? Blair says it shouldn’t come down to influence, but if you make a bigger contribution then you get a bigger say. Sir Martin Gilbert is the next interrogator.

11:20 – “My assessment of the security threat was intimately connected with the nature of the regime,” Blair says. The fact he had this brutal mindset meant if he got his hands on WMD the results could be appalling. “We did give weight to that [the doubts and caveats],” Blair goes on. He then reiterates how likely it was that Saddam had WMDs. “It would require quite strong evidence the other way to doubt that.”

11:26 – Was there evidence of links between Saddam and terrorist groups? Blair said Saddam funded the families of some Palestinian suicide bombers, but then goes off topic and talks in general about the links between states and terrorist groups – particularly Iran and goes on about a “misguided view” about Islam. But he does not really answer the question and Sir Martin lets him off. Sir Lawrence Freedman takes over the questioning. He says Iran, North Korea were put ahead of Iraq at one point. Why was Iraq chosen? Because it was in breach of UN resolutions. If you wanted to start with WMD you started with the person who used them and the people who were in breach of resolutions. Very important point. That’s Blair’s response to the accusation that they concentrated on the wrong problem.

11:32 – OK we’re on the 45 minute claim. Is it fair to say the intelligence referred to chemical and biological weapons for short range use and that “specificity” was lost in the document? Blair says that’s true. It was a headline winner, Blair concedes, and he admits it should have been cleared up “given the significance it then took on”. Blair attacks the BBC for saying Downing Street inserted it knowing it was wrong. Blair says the claim was only mentioned twice in parliament, despite huge amounts of comment about Iraq in the Commons. Sir Lawrence says he remembers Straw using it in a speech. “The fact of the way it was developed was misleading,” he tells Blair. Did you understand the difference between it relating to battlefield munitions and long range missiles? Blair says he didn’t think much about it, he mentioned it once and then not again. Given the significance it then took on “it would have been better to have corrected it”. He accepts it took on significance because of the all the intelligence that was wrong. He says Hutton vindicated that they didn’t insert it into the dossier. Sir Lawrence accepts this but says this is about how intelligence is interpreted and presented. “You seem to be saying you hadn’t actually paid a lot of attention to this so when it appeared in the foreword you weren’t aware yourself you were saying something beyond what the intelligence would allow?” Blair says that’s correct.

11:38 – Blair strongly defends his assumption Saddam had WMD. You’d have been hard pushed to find anyone who doubted he had a programme, Blair insists. Sir Lawrence continues pushing Blair on the quality of evidence. He cites Chirac, who believed he had WMD but admitted he had seen no proof. The foreword says the evidence showed “beyond doubt”. Blair: “I did believe it, and I did believe it beyond doubt.” Sir Lawrence: “Beyond your doubt, or beyond anyone’s doubt?” Blair says that now, he would take government right out of the process altogether, because the JIC assessments were strong enough on their own. He says the executive summary wasn’t drawn up by him, but it’s hard to come to any conclusion other than that “this person” had WMDs. He insists the Iraq Survey Group has now solved the “riddle” of what Saddam was up to.

11:44 – “Now with the benefit of hindsight we look back on the situation differently, but suppose we put it the other way round and it was correct and we weren;t going to act on it,” Blair argues. He describes it as the decision I took “and frankly would take again”. Sir Lawrence says this was a different standard to the one he had to take to the UN. He leaves that aside until later. Was Blair too trusting of some of the material he was getting. Blair says your behaviour at the time is decided by what happens afterwards. he gives the July 2005 bombings as an example where people pointed to bits of intelligence. Your worry is not just ‘is the inteligence correct’, but also, ‘if it is correct, what am I going to do about it’, Blair says. “It was at least reasonable to me at the time, given this evidence, to say this is a threat we should take very seriously.” Was Blair aware the intelligence community was reaffirming his hypothesis. When it got to the November resolution, no-one disputed the issue of Saddam and WMD, they just argued about what to do about it. It’s hard to disagree on this point – most peope did believe he had them, regardless of their position on the war.

11:50 – Going to the UN meant a higher standard of proof was required, Sir Lawrence says. Blair says that’s true but all the evidence was substantiating their view. Sir Roderic is back. Did the intelligence say the WMD threat was growing? Yes, Blair says. The September JIC assessments talked of continuing production. Secondly, he cites a piece of intelligence which later turned out to be wrong. He was told of mobile facilities for biological weapons – a new factor.

11:54 – Saddam hasn’t been freed from sanctions or an arms embargo, Sir Roderic says, and many countries who didn’t want him to have WMD, did not think the situation was getting worse. They didn’t accept the “why Iraq, why now” view which Blair had. Blair again relies on the ‘everything changed after 9/11’ argument.

12:06 – Blair is asked about his January 31st 2003 meeting with Bush. Was his main objective to convince him to go to the UN to get a second resolution? Yes. The second resolution was going to make life a lot easier politically, “in every respect”. But resolution “1441 had been very clear. It was a very strong resolution. It declared Iraq was in material breach.” Blair is reminded that Lord Goldsmith, at the time, thought we needed a second resolution. Straw said at home it would be important politically. The Americans were worried they would get pulled into a UN process without end, Blair says.

12:09 – Is it fair to say military planning set the terms for diplomatic wrangling, not the other way round? Blair says he tried once more to get a resolution in the Security Council to establish a test Saddam could comply with. There was no doubt he was in breach. Some people wanted the weapons inspectors to have more time. Sir Lawrence stops him, he’s getting too far forward. The view at the time was that the American military schedule had to be adhered to. Blair had six weeks. How did he think he could get a resolution through? Wasn’t he giving himself an ultimatum as well as Saddam? Blair denies that. “What actually happened was we had time enough to do it, but after 1441 France and Germany and Russia formed a different position which essentially said to America ‘we’re not going to be with you on this’.” Sir Lawrence keeps him on point. It was weird to keep troops out there in Kuwait, with the heat. Blair admits that’s correct. He says the only reason Saddam was doing anything with the inspectors was because he had those troops on his doorstep. Surely it was a sign that he didn’t have WMD on the basis that he didn’t attack those troops on his doorstep – but no-one asks that question. Blair insists Saddam could still have stopped the war at that late stage. Sir Lawrence says that to do that he would have had to say he didn’t have WMDs, and he wouldn’t have been believed. He cites Dick Cheney frankly disagreeing with anyone saying Saddam didn’t have weapons.

12:15 – Blair again cites the Iraq Survey Group report. Saddam could have provided proper documentation and cooperated fully in the interviews. Sir Lawrence says the Iraqis hadn’t maintained proper documentation from when they dismantled their weapons. It would have been hard for a convincing case to be made given the beliefs of the time. Blair says Saddam insisted anyone giving an interview outside Iraq was to be treated as a spy. Interviews were not allowed to take place. If the dossier said Saddam had continued intent then that was credible, but actually it said that the weapons were there, Sir Lawrence says. “It’s a problem that it’s true the issue of material breach was around non-cooperation with the inspectors rather than hiding particular weapons…” Blair interrupts him. He says it’s clear he was concealing material he should have shown to the UN. Sir Lawrence isn’t disagreeing with that but he says that to get a second resolution Blair needed evidence Saddam hadn’t taken up the final opportunity. Who would provide that statement? Blair says Blix and his reports are the key documents here.

12:26 – We’re onto the moment when he realised that there were no WMD and his relationship with Dr Blix. Blair says he was frustrated by the inspection process because Saddam didn’t intend to cooperate with the inspectors. Blair was making a judgement to the Security Council on material breach without the support of Blix. “His reports were clear the compliance was not immediate and unconditional,” Blair says. He quotes Blix saying the numerous initiatives taken by Iraq were not immediate cooperation. Blair says we got a ‘one way or another’ situation, but that if Blix had another six months it wouldn’t have come out differently.

12:32 – Sir Lawrence is making an excellent point. Given all Blair is saying about the inspection process, and the reasonable argument it should have been given more time, how can he say it was feasible given the American military timetable? He asked for more time, Powell told the inquiry, but wasn’t granted it. Blair: “There were ways even then when we could have tried to resolve this. It became very clear that whatever the position in 2002, the position of France and Russia had changed.” That made the UK position difficult. But it doesn’t really answer Sir Lawrence’s question. He lets it go, but sums up: Sir Jeremy Greenstock never felt he had a chance to win the vote at the UN. Despite the quality of intelligence there was no smoking gun. The inspectors were not saying that they couldn’t do their job. The view was moving away on this issue within the Security Council. “Was this not a good time to take stock and to question whether or not more time would have been helpful?” Greenstock and Manning both wanted more time. Blair says the arrangement was so there could have been more time. He insists they could have got the nine votes if it wasn’t for the ‘undecided six’ getting such a clear message from France and Russia they wouldn’t accept any action. But even with more time, Blix couldn’t have conducted the interviews with key members of the regime and him being honest with them. Sir Lawrence says that if they had had more time the Security Council might have got behind them. Blair denies that. “You have to make a judgement, is this person really cooperating with the international community or not?” he says. The inspectors weren’t given all the information, he goes on. Sir Lawrence says he understands that but says the issue is whether it was possible to get a consensus in the UN. Did Blair ever ask Bush for more time? No, what he said, “much to the consternation of his system”, was: ‘if you can get [the Blix test] then do it’.” The Americans had their forces there, and they were fed up with the slow progress. There was a judgement being made that more time was not going to solve this. The panel breaks for lunch, right after Chilcot thanks the audience for being so attentive and well-mannered. The inquiry will resume at 14:00 GMT – and so will we.

13:41 – Not long to go now until the afternoon session. Ian is spending a well-earned lunchbreak scoffing his face, leaving your favourite deputy editor Alex Stevenson to take up the baton and take you through the afternoon session. Our correspondent inside the QEII tells us there was quite a rush out of the conference centre for lunch. Maybe everyone was hungry; maybe they had just grown fed up of that rather heavy-going last half-hour.

13:55 – The inquiry panel will have spent their lunch hour plotting new ways to approach the ex-prime minister. They have been more confrontational than ever before, it has to be said. Will they go further this afternoon? Blair’s back in just five minutes.

14:02 – “We still have much to cover today,” Sir John begins as the inquiry committee take their seats. And we’re off again. Couldn’t help but spot a couple of empty seats in the inquiry hearing room. I’m sure a lot of people who applied for tickets but were disappointed won’t be very happy about that.

14:06 – Sir Roderic Lyne has a couple of follow-up questions from before lunch. He wants to know whether the French had expressed concern that the British were misrepresenting the French position in mid-March 2003. “The French position was very clear,” Blair replies, not answering the question. He says the whole point of a second resolution was that it was “stronger and tougher” than the first one, 1441. “You didn’t feel there was any possibility if we pursued inspections for a longer period… the French would have been prepared to vote for a resolution authorising military action?” Sir Roderic asks. Blair says he didn’t want Britain and France to fall out, but says it was “very clear” there was a “straightforward division, frankly”. He adds: “I don’t think it mattered how much time we’d taken.” The French were never going to play ball.

14:09 – Blair remembers a conversation at the time with the president of Chile, who wanted the French to agree to Britain’s viewpoint before he could support military action. Blair explains in rather convoluted fashion the many hoops through which Britain and the US had to jump to “bring everybody back together again”. He says a major factor in his mind was bringing the UN back to unity after the invasion so things didn’t become “ugly” on the security council.

14:11 – The sad truth, Sir Roderic says, is that these diplomatic attempts to secure agreement weren’t working out. Instead warnings were beginning to emerge “that the post-conflict preparations by the Americans didn’t look at all good”. He assumes that Blair “must have had some pause for thought”. Did Bush offer a way out? “I think the Americans would have done that,” Blair says, a little surprisingly. “But I took the view very strongly and do that it was right for us to be with America, since we believed in this too. It is true it was very divisive. But it was divisive in the sense there were two groups.” In the Cabinet as in the international community, he “would go as far to suggest”.

14:12 – “It was a really tough situation,” Blair remembers, perhaps appealing for the sympathy vote. He returns to fundamentals – that Saddam was going to “remain a threat”. The alliance with America was important. “We’d been down a UN path that I’d genuinely hoped would work.” Sir Roderic points out this morning Blair said he didn’t expect it would. A decent intervention there, but Blair bats it away by insisting he was doing “absolutely everything I could” to avoid having to take the “tough choice” which faced him.

14:15 – Blair’s rising intonation is becoming a little irritating, but Sir Roderic presses on. The pair get into a mix-up about planning for the aftermath. “What I’m saying is to have kept out of the aftermath as well as the initial action would have been very hard for Britain,” he says simply. Eventually.

14:22 – Sir Roderic next wants to know about the issues surrounding the legality of the invasion – this is a key phase. He begins with a summary of the points raised so far. Lord Goldsmith has said there was no legal basis for regime change as an objective in itself; lawyers in the US administration favoured what was called the ‘revival’ argument, meaning the authorisation for the use of force during the First Gulf War was capable of being revived for use again; the British argument was you needed fresh permission from the security council so this was no good. Kosovo had an alternative answer – the intervention to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. The result was that British lawyers argued a fresh authorisation was needed; they got 1441, passed unanimously. But as Lord Goldsmith said this wasn’t “crystal-clear”. “The ambiguous wording of that resolution immediately gave rise to different positions by different security council members” as to whether they had actually authorised it. In short, diplomatic chaos. Blair listens silently, nodding assent.

14:24 – Sir Roderic is halfway through the summary, he says. Ye gods! He “pauses at half-time”. Is this right? Blair says yes, so Sir Roderic presses on. On March 7th, Lord Goldsmith submitted his formal advice, arguing that “the safest legal course” was a second resolution. But he then switched his position and said a “reasonable case” could be made that 1441 was “capable in principle of reviving the authorisation” beforehand. But this was coupled with a warning that a “reasonable case does not mean if the matter ever came before a court I am confident a court would agree with this view”. Sir Roderic says Lord Goldsmith had parted company with all previous legal advice.

14:27 – A ‘yes or no’ decision was then required from Lord Goldsmith, Sir Roderic continues. He says by March 13th Lord Goldsmith had decided to go with the ‘yes’ option. “On balance the better view was the conditions for the operation of the revival argument were met in this case,” he quotes Goldsmith as saying. The last stage is that this view required “a determination” that Iraq was” in further material breach of its obligations”. The legal advisors in the FCO said only the UN security council could make this, but Lord Goldsmith said individual member states could make this. This was, of course, the breakthrough, which meant the attorney could “give the green light”. Blair repeatedly “mmm-hmms” through all this.

14:30 – Unfortunately not all in the Foreign Office agreed. Is this a fair summary of the background, Sir Roderic asks. Blair says yes. He says “what was so important about resolution 1441 was it declared Saddam in breach but… also it said a failure to comply unconditionally and immediately and fully with the inspectors was itself a further material breach”. Beyond that, he’s happy and Sir Roderic’s happy. Time to move on for some more questions.

14:31 – “I was interested that we had taken action in 1998, on the basis of the revival of resolution 678, so it was very important to me because we’d already taken military action,” Blair comments. This was a very handy precedent, but the questioning isn’t getting very far. We haven’t had even a scrap of anything newsworthy for aaaages.

14:33 – In more downplaying shock, Blair says much of this advice tallied with all legal sources. “What I took from that advice was we needed a new resolution.” A very good point – so obvious Blair doesn’t seem to have grasped the unanswered questions it raises. Sir Roderic ploughs on, blithely ignoring what every journalist in the land is crying out to get asked.

14:37 – Blair launches into a stirring defence of Lord Goldsmith as a “lawyers’ lawyer”. Is this a good thing? In any case, he explains his advice was surely impeccable. Sir Roderic wonders why Lord Goldsmith said his initial advice was “not particularly welcome”. Blair laughs this off. “Once we got into discussions with the Americans I was well aware of the fact from March onwards that if we wanted to be legally secure on this we had to go down the UN route,” he says. “It was then very helpful for him to do this because it focused our mind.” Did he just get the wrong vibes from No 10? “I don’t know,” Blair says. “He wanted to make it absolutely clear.”

14:42 – “The whole of the legal interpretation really revolved around… what was in the mind of the people who passed the resolution,” Blair remembers. This is the stuff which makes lawyers rub their hands with glee, but is more inconvenient for the many countries whose minds were being interpreted by Bush and Blair. Before the middle of February 2003, there were no options, Sir Roderic points out. “Later on it turned out he was able to find an alternative.” So the question is – wouldn’t it have been easier to have known at this earlier stage there was an alternative? Why bother trying to get the first security council resolution?

14:45 – Blair says context is everything; he’s very much right but is utterly failing to answer the question. “There was at least as powerful an argument on the side of one resolution only as there was against it,” he then says, perhaps providing an insight into this terrible dilemma he wrestled with for so long. Blair says the UK and US disagreed fundamentally on this. Sir Roderic comes back at Blair after nearly every phrase as a conversation with Sir Jeremy Greenstock is remembered. The ex-PM appears rattled. “It’s fair to say, it’s very important” – Blair is interrupted by Sir Roderic, who adds helpfully: “It’s very important.” We make progress, gentlemen, we make progress.

14:46 – The to-ing and fro-ing continues. Sir Roderic wants to know what discussions Blair had with Goldsmith between March 7th (opinion number one) and March 13th (opinion number two). Blair “can’t recall” any.

14:49 – Blair has gone off on a tangent about resolution 1441. The “whole spirit” of it was that he would be given “one last chance”. So why was there a need to explore a second resolution? is the question Sir Roderic fails to ask. But Blair is doing much of the work for him, now explaining how he used these arguments to call for a second resolution. Sir Roderic suggests the British motivation was because all the advice at the time was legally a second resolution was required. Blair says this was a handy advantage – “but actually a case could be made out for doing this without a second resolution”.

14:51 – Sir Roderic is unimpressed by Lord Goldsmith’s advice disagreeing with – well, everybody. Blair dismisses this with the air of one conceding a minor point. “Other countries were having the same issues as well,” he says. It was “irrelevant” that the American lawyers were disagreeing. “Clearly not irrelevant”, Sir Roderic says. Blair doesn’t reply to that one. He says: “All I’m pointing out is when you analyse 1441 it’s less surprising a conclusion to come to as it’s sometimes made out to be. It had if you like a certain integrity. It basically said, ‘ok, one last chance’.”

14:52 – What did Blair make of Lord Goldsmith’s isolation, despite his being a “lawyer of the highest eminence?” Blair intervenes to make the point that “it’s pretty obvious you can make a decent case for this”. Sir Roderic backtracks, refusing to state his opinion on it. “I’m just asking questions,” he says. And then continues his relentless inferring. That was Blair hitting out in discomfort. Sir Roderic doesn’t lose out as a result.

14:56 – We are making absolutely no progress here. Blair is making the same point, again and again and again and again. “We had to decide,” he says. Next we get very close to territory discussed by the protestors outside the QEII conference centre – going to court. But he then decides to move on. “I think that brings us to the questions of preparations and planning,” Sir John Chilcot says, and we switch over to questioning from Baroness Prashar. And that was just getting interesting!

14:58 – Baroness Prashar’s first, rather lengthy, question is about the extent to which Blair’s decisions were influenced by military readiness. His answer, in short: Yes. Another searing insight unveiled.

15:01 – Next question. Was the military pretending they were ready because of a “can-do” attitude? “Mike” – that is, General Mike Jackson, head of the Army – had been very blunt and very reassuring on this point, Blair says. But Baroness Prashar said there had only been a couple of months’ preparation. “There had been a lot of work going on before this,” Blair points out. Baroness Prashar says this had not been active preparation, though. “I needed to know from them they would do it and they would be ready. They were,” Blair says. Did anyone spell out the implications of not being prepared? “They absolutely were,” Blair says, saying defence secretary Geoff Hoon had pressed the importance of readiness.

15:02 – “I don’t think I refused a request for money once during my time as prime minister,” Blair says, going further. We assume he is just talking about providing equipment for the armed forces.

15:05 – Next, it’s time for the aftermath. Baroness Prashar quotes Blair saying this was important, before the invasion. She says several people had said “it didn’t quite work”. Blair says an “immense amount of pre-war planning” happened. He has done his homework, unsurprisingly. Cabinet even discussed aftermath. “The problem was our focus was on the issues that weren’t the issues in reality,” he said. “A different set of realities” was confronted. They planned for humanitarian relief, he says.

15:07 – Baroness Prashar interrupts and says Clare Short in the Department for International Development (DfID) wasn’t being listened to. Blair brushes this aside and moves on. Was the problem that “a full range of situations” had not been planned for, Baroness Prashar asks? “For what we thought we were going to encounter in Iraq, I thought we did plan adequately,” Blair says. A shame they didn’t incorporate a multilayered insurgency into the equation, critics might suggest.

15:08 – But here’s some substance: Blair says a major lesson is that, when invading dictatorships, assuming a civil service exists is a big mistake. “We found a completely broken system,” he says. That should be added to the Handbook for Invading Liberators.

15:14 – Blair’s voice is occasionally cracking, now, but this is more hoarseness than an emotional breakdown. He’s talking about the UN security resolutions, again, despite Baroness Prashar’s questioning being targeted at the aftermath. Blair defends the American system in the aftermath. He cites reports from the time which demonstrated these problems existed both with the Americans and British, but said: “From what we thought we were going to have, we had planned for it, and we met those eventualities.” Blair says the Americans were reluctant that the UN should be involved in post-invasion Iraq. He says resolution 1483 was “very important”. He invites the inquiry panel to look at it. “No,” Baroness Prashar says bluntly. Blair finds another device to make his point, which is: they got the Americans to agree to the UN having a role. This is being presented as a major triumph.

15:16 – Blair is on the defensive, here, in a way he hasn’t been so far this afternoon. He says the American “system” has “accepted” its weaknesses, but in a rather reluctant tone. “The absolutely central point… is unfortunately what we thought was going to be the problem didn’t turn out to be the problem.” Baroness Prashar isn’t interested in this. She goes back to her point: “There was a danger Iraq could have fractured… there’s a whole range of eventualities for which you [should have ]planned for which weren’t done.” Blair says the government did plan for the problems related to a Sunni-Shia-Kurd split. They were brought together for a chinwag known as the Iraq Interim Governing Council in May 2003, he says.

15:20 – Blair says the big assumption of a “functioning civil service infrastructure” was the biggest mistake. A stabilisation unit set up in 2004 recognised this. The Americans now realise that “you have to go in as nation-builders”, he says. Baroness Prashar wants to know whether there was a ‘plan B’. Blair makes two points. The first is the one above – no civil service. Secondly: “People did not think al-Qaida and Iran would play the role they did.” The plot thickens. “We could have handled the situation” if the problem had been the internal elements. It was these new actors who “nearly caused the mission to fail”. “That in itself is a huge lesson because these are the same forces we’re still facing.”

15:23 – Sir John Chilcot wants to know why there wasn’t, when it comes down to it, much planning against Iran. “Is it ever safe to look at a single set of assumptions?” Blair compliments the question, but claims they had “tried to drill down” on the worst-case assumptions Sir John talked about. “I think in the future you’re best to make this assumption – that these types of failed states… if we’re required to go into this type of situation, you might as well assume the worst, actually. Because you are dealing with states that are very repressive, deeply secretive. Power is controlled by a very small number of people and it’s always going to be tough.” The lesson, Blair says, is: “Are we actually prepared to be in there for the long-term in nation-building?” Sir John Chilcot says: “It may have turned out to be an expensive lesson, but it’s an important one to learn.”

15:38 – Just a couple of minutes from getting underway for the final quarter of what has been a riveting day.

15:52 – Blair says he raised the Sunni-Shia relationship several times before the war, and it was one of the reasons he wanted the UN so closely involved. The Sunni had effectively ruled the country, excluding the Shia, he informs the panel, although one can presume they are fully aware of this. It was in 2006, as the result of a mosque bombing, that the split became violent and terrible. Before that, those issues had been managed quite well in the south. Why wasn’t knowledge put on the table? Blair insists there was discussion. “What there wasn’t – and this is of vital importance – people did not believe you would have al-Qaeda come in from outside or that Iran would try deliberately to destabilise the country. Throughout this period, the Iraqi people were not supportive of the violence.”

16:00 – Talking about al-Qaeda, Blair admits the situation was “difficult”. “At the time the single thing people were most determined to prove was there were two separate problems.” The link between Saddam and al-Qaeda, instinctively proved in America, was instinctively separated in Britain. Blair restates his view that leaving Saddam in power would have meant “today we would be facing a situation where Iraq is competing with Iran”.

16:05 – “Saddam might very well be in a box,” Sir Roderic says speculatively. He was speaking figuratively. Literally, of course, he’s actually correct. Pardon me. His question relates to the de-Ba’athification process which occurred afterwards. “Had we been consulted before this happened by Washington?” Sir Roderic asks. Blair says he hadn’t been asked about it. “I would however say the moment we were aware of this… [UK ambassador] John Sawers was on to the case. I am not sure in my own mind about this even now.” Blair says de-Ba’athification was always going to be “really difficult” to prevent, but highlights the attitude towards the Ba’ath party. They “detested” them. He compares it to the Nazi party’s ex-members after the Second World War.

16:06 – Blair says he wished the Americans had made this decision before asking the British, not afterwards. But he says “that’s a very live debate”. That’s probably the most significant division Blair has highlighted with the Americans so far. He says they “scaled it back” quickly afterwards, though. “I think it’s something that you need to take a range of views on,” he pressed.

16:09 – Time for some questioning from Sir Lawrence Freedman, who asks Blair when he realised the WMD weren’t going to be found. Excellent question. Blair says this was a gradual process; Sir Lawrence says it was pretty obvious even in 2003. He quickly skips back in time chronologically and asks about the 500,000 troop-number estimate initially considered by the US military. Blair says the issue is for the post-war period, not the conflict itself, when it comes to the question of sufficient troops. “That is a difficult question to answer,” he says.

16:14 – Does Blair think Rumsfeld “predetermined” the difficulties by not providing enough troops? The ex-PM is in advice-giving mode for future invasions. He says kicking Saddam out is just “one function”. “What we now know is, and will know in all these situations from now on is, you will be nation-building after that… it’s a different task.” Sir Lawrence, who knows a thing or two about this sort of activity, warns of the risk of a vacuum being very high indeed. Blair dodges it slightly; he says the whole point of the opponents in Iraq was to sabotage the reconstruction. “The issue is a security issue,” he says.

16:17 – Sir Lawrence fast-forwards to April 2004, and Fallujah. Then relations with the Sunni community were deteriorating. US marines were planning on entering the city in force to take out 2,000 insurgents. Blair says he was involved in discussions with Bush and the Iraqi interim administration’s premier, Allawi. “At the time I was worried the Americans were going in too hard and too heavy,” Blair admits. “They made certain changes as a result of the conversations we were having. If I look back on it now I’m not sure I was right about it, though. The truth is we were reaching out to the Sunni. One of the reasons why I could see us having a more challenging situation in the south… was it would soon become very clear the purpose of what we were doing was not to replace a Sunni minority dictatorship with a Shia majority dictatorship.” The reality, he says, was many Shia were “quite determined” not to allow the reconciliation with the Sunnis to happen.

16:19 – The dilemma was a tough one, according to Sir Lawrence. Blair agrees, but says the whole purpose was not to let another “tyranny” – terrorism – win in Iraq. Blair says all nations dealing with this new type of terrorism have to deal with this. In Israel, for example, they get attacked, they use great force in retaliating, and within two weeks, “they’re the people who have started it all”. In-teresting.

16:23 – Blair says intensive debates took place about al-Sadr. Should he be reached out to, or arrested? “It’s a real lesson out of this – you are bound to take a certain amount of time to win this battle.” Blair says three conflicts took place: the invasion, the aftermath and, from 2004, “a metamorphosis into a different type of conflict”. In the end, four things were needed to defeat it. Political buy-in; Iraqi capability built up; the right troop configuration; and a willingness to “stick at it”.

16:25 – Blair says he was “shocked and angry” at the images of prisoner abuse coming from Abu Ghraib. Not good news for the “media battle”. He says he didn’t get any advance warning, despite Sir Lawrence pointing out there had been some knowledge of this beforehand. “The most important thing was it did damage to our cause,” Blair says quickly. “The activities of the few shouldn’t take away from the fact the majority…” you can fill in the rest.

16:29 – Sir Lawrence reads out to Blair “tragic” figures for civilian deaths. In January 2006, 1,042. In January 2007, over 2,000. The documented deaths, he points out. “The striking thing is they’re getting worse each year. What did you feel at the time you could do about this?” Blair says that sticking with the political process was key, alongside – “when people say there were people dying in Iraq… the coalition forces weren’t the ones doing the killing”. He blames the terrorists, the sectarians. This isn’t quite answering the question, not yet at least. “When we say, isn’t it terrible the death toll went that high – yes. But the first question to ask is who is killing them?” All he can say is: “Our responsibility was to see it through.”

16:30 – “We can agree and hope the position for ordinary Iraqis only improves,” Sir Lawrence says rather darkly. That’s another instance of the inquiry questioners clearly disagreeing with Blair – but shying away from overtly saying so. In these final exchanges of today’s questioning, Blair’s priority is clearly to demonstrate that things have got better in Iraq – even if it was bad in 2006 and 2007. “If you talk to people about Basra today there are real improvements there now,” he says, his voice rising very high at the end.

16:39 – Now, more broad-brush issues, specifically the way the Cabinet relates to No 10’s power. Baroness Prashar steps up again and confronts Blair with the restricted nature of discussions before the war. “We were discussing then what was likely to happen particularly in relation to politics and the military,” Blair says. At a later time, DfID officials were involved in the meetings. “It’s true it was at a later time that Clare Short herself joined the committee. However, having said that we were in pretty regular correspondence and DfID acquitted itself very well.” Baroness Prashar suggested the Treasury and DfID might have been interested in what was going on. Blair says it was discussed at Cabinet level. He says diplomacy and military planning were the biggest issues before addressing the fundamental issue. “The key thing was to get the key players together. That’s really what we did.”

16:42 – Blair repeats what he said in the Butler inquiry that a “specially-constituted committee” to deal with these issues might be a good idea. This will please the Conservatives, who back the creation of a national security committee. Back in New Labour land, Blair answers a question from Sir John Chilcot about whether there was sufficient information and analysis for Cabinet colleagues to understand or challenge these issues in Cabinet discussion. “We had at least 25 pre-invasion discussions of Iraq,” Blair says, in addition to other ad-hoc ministerial discussions. “There was a constant interaction… there was an immense amount going on.” He’s not keen to accept the ‘sofa-style government’ allegations, that’s for sure.

16:44 – Blair says he “really” does believe that the Cabinet had the issues in front of them. “There were members of the Cabinet who would challenge and disagree, but most of them agreed,” he claims. It was the same in parliament, he adds. “Whatever differences Clare Short and I had from time to time, the one thing I would never accuse her of being was backward in coming forward.”

16:47 – The final set of questions relates to the way strategic policymaking “folded” in with legal advice. Baroness Prashar takes up the baton. Blair leaps, like a mentally agile gazelle, back to the pre-invasion legal difficulties. “I’m very happy to talk about how, for example, you might do some of these things differently now. But I don’t think having Peter [Goldsmith] at the Cabinet meeting would have made any difference.” The key was him being confident enough to pick up the phone, even to the prime minister, and tell him what he could or could not say.

16:53 – Even Robin Cook was prepared to accept the Iraq invasion if a second resolution had been met, Blair says. We’re going over old ground here – Blair explaining that he was the “lawyer there to talk about it”, and so “we offered it up”. Sir John Chilcot wants to know how useful legal advice was. It was “one of the key things we asked for – and we got it”. Sir John says, still, “there was a very clear strategic policy objective set for Iraq” – namely, disarming them of WMDs by military means as a last resort. But there were moments, as late as March 2003, when that policy objective could have been blocked because of a legal constraint. “Is that unavoidable in situations like this?” When it’s “that controversial and divisive”, yes, Blair replies simply, before sighing. “There could have been a major debate about Kosovo and legality. There could have been, but there wasn’t. The law and the politics follow each other quite closely.” “Yes,” Sir John replies quickly.

16:56 – Baroness Prashar asks the final questions, as noise from the protestors’ drums outside filters into the inquiry room. They’re getting louder and louder, but the baroness presses on. She wants to know how getting “delivery” from ministers worked. He says the war Cabinet, then Jack Straw, took charge. “There wasn’t an issue at any stage of this with people not feeling they were apart from this.” Apart from Clare Short, he adds. But Baroness Prashar says the question is why many felt isolated. Blair says his personal involvement, together with the close involvement of other senior officials, meant “there was a machinery of government problem”. He doesn’t think the sofa-style of government made a difference to policy, in short.

16:58 – After it became clear the policy was developing into a strategic failure, Baroness Prashar suggests, a re-evaluation took place. “Absolutely,” Blair says. He explains it turned into a “different type of fight”, but that the shift in strategy was what worked. It was Iran supporting al-Qaeda which proved the biggest surprise, he says. “They both had a common interest in destabilising the country.”

17:03 – Would you do anything differently, she asks. Sir John seems upset, as it appears this was his closing question. Blair’s answer is defiant: summed up, the answer is no. Sir John jumps in with a final question; it’s been seven and a half hours since questioning began. He asks whether, from 2010, the people of Iraq thought the enterprise was worthwhile. And he then tells an “anecdote”, saying an Iraqi had said the inept nature of the coalition had caused great suffering. Blair: “It’s too early to say whether the Iraqi democracy will take root and will function effectively, although… there are really hopeful signs.” He points to the electricity, increasing income per head, the money spent on infrastructure as examples. “It was a very difficult fight indeed. It was always going to be difficult once these external factors came into play. But in the future we will be far better prepared and better educated than we were then. Was it worth it for the Iraqi people themselves?” He refers to the latest polls, showing an upbeat view about the future. They show that they think the services are getting better.

17:06 – “You can talk to Iraqis, of course, who are still worried. But I think if you ask the majority of the Iraqis today would you really prefer to be back under Saddam, I think you’d get a pretty overwhelming answer to that question.” Sir John says the participation in the Iraqi conflict has been very divisive and has resulted in many losses, “some to the people in this room”. “We have been asking the question ‘Why’?” He wants to know what broad lessons Blair draws and wonders whether he has regrets. “You’ve got to look very carefully at what type of forces you require. I also think you’ve really got to look at the issue to do with the nature of this threat from al-Qaeda on the one hand and Iran on the other.”

17:09 – “I genuinely believe that if we had left Saddam in power, even with what we know now, we would still have had to have dealt with him, possibly in circumstances when the threat was worse… I think we live in a completely new security environment today. I thought that then, I think that now. I take a very hard, tough line on Iran today. In the end it was divisive and I’m sorry about that. I tried my level best to bring people back together again. But when I’m asked if I believe we’re safer and we’re more secure… I believe indeed that we are and I think in time to come if Iraq becomes, as I hope and believe it will, the country its people want to see, we can look back… with an immense sense of pride and achievement in what they did.” No regrets? “Responsibility, but not a regret for removing Saddam Hussein.” “Come on!” a member of the gallery says. “Be quiet, please!” Sir John says strictly. “It was better to deal with this threat and I do genuinely believe the world is safer as a result,” Blair continues. He says another view of foreign policy is available, that Saddam cold have dealt with Iran. “The way to deal with one dictatorial threat is not to back another.”

17:10 – Sir John is wrapping up. He thanks Blair for a “long” and “hard” day. “With that, we close this session. Thank you all again.” Blair jumps up and exits quickly, leaving his file on the table in front of where he’s spent the day. A staff officer quickly picks it up afterwards.

17:20 – Our reporter on the ground outside the inquiry tells us that the few diehards remain with their protest, but activity is distinctly limited now the cold January night has drawn in. It’s been an extraordinary day, but – at the same time – a rather a frustrating one. Blair’s appearance was both scintillating and a damp squib. The statements made today will fill the history books; but they won’t be writing about today, they’ll be writing about events under the hot Iraqi sun nearly seven years ago. On that flourish, ladies and gentlemen, we wish you all a good evening. (Unless you want to hang around for some comment and analysis action. Watch this space in about 40 minutes’ time).