| A portrait of Prime Minister Tony Blair by British sculptor Shenda Amery entitled How close is the Horizon. Amery, known for her sculptured busts of famous figures including former Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major, says Blair’s expression in the painting portrays the difficulties and dilemmas of a contemporary head of government. (Reuters)
London, July 18: Downing Street secured vital changes to the Butler report before its publication, watering down an explicit criticism of Tony Blair and the way he made the case for war in the House of Commons.
The Daily Telegraph has established that the disagreement between No 10 and Lord Butler’s inquiry team centred on a passage in an original draft of the report about Blair’s statement to MPs in September 2002. The original passage drew a much clearer contrast than the final version of the Butler Report between the strong case for war made by Blair and the weakness of the intelligence the Prime Minister received about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
The changes secured by No 10 diluted the criticism of Blair and helped Downing Street to mount its main defence — that the report showed that the Prime Minister was acting in good faith.
A member of Lord Butler’s team has disclosed to The Daily Telegraph that changes were made at the behest of No 10. However, the inquiry member also revealed that on the day he published his report, Lord Butler was preparing publicly to distance himself from Blair if asked at his only press conference whether the PM should resign. “It was not his job to bring down the government,” the inquiry member said. “But he was not going to back Blair either.”
The deliberately equivocal answer Lord Butler had prepared — which in the end he did not have to deliver because the question was not asked — would have stood in conspicuous contrast to his explicit request in his report that John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, should not have to step down from his new post as head of MI6.
The attempts by the inquiry to make stronger criticism of Blair in their report were hampered during an exchange of views between Lord Butler and Downing Street that began some 10 days before publication last Wednesday.
Under the rules governing inquiries, any individual who has been criticised or fears he may be criticised has the right to be shown sections of the draft in advance with a view to giving a response.
An inquiry member said: “This process was gone through. One or two things were changed. These were accepted by the committee.”
In the original draft a passage on page 114 contained stronger criticism of Blair’s Commons statement of September 24, 2002. The report as published stated, in one of very few direct references to Blair’s conduct: “The language in the dossier may have left with readers the impression that there was fuller and firmer intelligence behind the judgments than was the case: our view...is that judgments in the dossier went to (although not beyond) the outer limits of the intelligence available. The Prime Minister’s description, in his statement to the House of Commons on the day of publication of the dossier, of the picture painted by the intelligence services in the dossier as ‘extensive, detailed and authoritative’, may have reinforced this impression.”
In the original draft this last sentence was much stronger, expressing the opinion that Blair personally masterminded the misleading impression left by the dossier. The passage is important because Downing Street maintained last week that the report at no point questions Blair’s “good faith”.
According to a member of the inquiry, however, the Prime Minister should not be regarded as in the clear. “The whole thing points straight to the man in charge...absolutely to where responsibility belongs, which is the Prime Minister, which is what we could not say.”
The disclosures will put further pressure on Blair following the revelation that the earlier Hutton inquiry was not told about the withdrawal of key intelligence which formed the basis for claims made by the dossier. Downing Street admitted that MI6 withdrew some elements of the intelligence supporting the government’s case for war because it was unreliable, but decided not to tell the Hutton inquiry.
Blair’s spokesperson said the intelligence service felt the withdrawal was “too sensitive” to be made public at that point. He said the Prime Minister had not been told and only became aware of the withdrawn intelligence because of Lord Butler’s inquiry.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “Lord Butler gave the final copy of the report to the Prime Minister on Tuesday last week. There is only one Butler Report.”