I TOOK the Tube from Swiss Cottage to the Chilcot inquiry at 7am. I queued up and I was fourth in line for Lord Goldsmith.
There were a few regulars in the queue, a solicitor, a student and a sculptor. I sat in the front row – just behind Lord Goldsmith. It’s a surprisingly small room. You can’t tell on TV but it was rather intimate. I had a really good day out. It was terrific.
I think it would have been far better if at least one member of the panel was a lawyer or someone with legal experience. Last September I testified before the Dutch inquiry, which was equivalent to the Chilcot inquiry. I believe only two foreigners testified, Hans Blix and myself. I was grilled for about three hours. It had seven members, four of whom were legally qualified. They were extremely knowledgeable and well organised. That inquiry was presided over by a former chief justice of the Dutch supreme court, a respected authority.
They certainly knew how to ask questions. It was a stark contrast to the kind of questioning from the Chilcot inquiry, perhaps with the exception of Sir Roderic Lyne. It’s true, the composition doesn’t look ideal when you look at background and identities. But you learn to keep an open mind on these things, and the proof will be in the pudding. Let’s see what they report.
The Dutch inquiry reported three weeks ago. It concluded in a unanimous report that the Dutch government had taken an early decision, not based on justifiable intelligence, and that it was an illegal act that violated international law. These were pretty robust conclusions, and they caused serious political consequences in the Netherlands.When it came to Tony Blair’s appearance, I thought he came across quite defensively, and was weak on points of detail.
When Sir John Chilcot asked him if he had any regrets he said none, then he was asked a second time, and again he said none, except that it had been so divisive. He could at least have said that he deeply regretted the great loss of life, of British troops in Iraq and the horrendous number of civilian casualties.
I think that may well come back to haunt him, suggesting he is so wrapped up in saving himself that he is no longer able to step back and see it from the perspective of others.
It was like a theatrical performance, not a straight set of responses. Watching it I felt it lacked authenticity. It was performance.
Plainly they need to go back and go over the detail with him. There are many points of detail where his broad general statements tended to contradict some of the documentary evidence that was there.
But the key point is that on the crucial issue of timing of his commitment he basically confirmed he had taken an early decision and told President Bush he would be alongside whatever the US decided to do.
I think from that everything else flows. The intelligence and the legal advice seems to have been fixed around that predetermined policy. Mr Blair gave President Bush an early commitment, unconditional and unambiguous, and everything else had to be fixed around this decision.
The Chilcot inquiry is reminding people about Iraq and confirming people’s views. Some who were more favourable to Mr Blair are now seemingly less favourably disposed. The issue they focus on is the failure to take into account the post-war planning. It’s still a sore wound. Watching Alastair Campbell and Tony Blair provides a stark reminder that they took a decision that was unjustifiable.
A lot of people feel very duped. There is a strong feeling of that.
It is very hard to think of anyone who has been paying any attention to this and who says to you: obviously he took the right decision.
Even people who were supportive at the time, recognise that something went very seriously wrong. We may yet be surprised by the findings of inquiry.
I think in my Hampstead and Kilburn constituency the inquiry will spell trouble for Glenda Jackson. Our own family is deeply divided. Our 12-year-old daughter has decided to go out and stuff envelopes for Ed Fordham.
That prompted her 14-year-old brother to ring up to offer help to Glenda Jackson’s office. Our house is split down the middle, the battle-lines are being drawn about who gets which window for the posters. Looks to me like Labour is out of it here, and it’s a race between the Tories and the Lib Dems. I’ll be down at the count on the night, supporting Ed Fordham, who has been very active and engaged locally.
One of the most interesting things about Blair’s statement is that he mentioned Iran 58 times.
Under his watch, we would be off and running again. I think it will be much more difficult to do this now. I think we will be more cautious about trusting any prime minister who says they have information but can’t show us.
That’s the biggest task for the Chilcot inquiry: restoring public trust. Anything short of a brutal hammering of those responsible will confine it to a deep and dark place.
• Philippe Sands QC is Professor of International law at University