Blair Political Comeback Hit by Iraq Dispute in Parliament

Updated on
  • Alex Salmond leads cross-party group calling Blair to account
  • Lawmakers begin debate on motion in U.K. House of Commons

Tony Blair’s plan for a return to politics will have to overcome an old obstacle that won’t go away: his decision to take the U.K. into the Iraq War.

Lawmakers from seven political parties made a coordinated move Wednesday to hold the former prime minister to account for his actions in the run-up to the 2003 invasion. They put forward a motion arguing that the U.K. Parliament should hold a series of investigations into Blair’s role in the conflict.

“Blair’s premeditated and calculated commitment” to U.S. President George W. Bush “that ‘I will be with you whatever’ will forever ring loud for the millions who marched against the war, to the families of dead soldiers and to hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who lost their lives,” Alex Salmond, the Scottish National Party’s international affairs spokesman, said in a statement before the debate. “At a time when Blair is planning his political comeback, it is high time that this Parliament and its committees at long last brought this dark stain on U.K. foreign policy to a close.”

Blair, who stepped down as prime minister after 10 years in 2007, was criticized for his role in the Iraq conflict earlier this year in a public inquiry led by John Chilcot. The former premier said last week he’s dismayed by the state of western politics, with Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, and wants to create a new space for political debate.

‘Grievously Misled’

“The information that we had from the Chilcot report makes it unsustainable to argue for anything other than this Parliament was grievously misled,” Salmond said as he introduced Wednesday’s debate. “Parliamentary accountability -- an examination of statements made to Parliament and the public against the facts as we now know them -- would be a valuable additional sanction and tool in restraining future prime ministers from any such course of events.”

Caroline Lucas, the sole Green Party lawmaker in the House of Commons, backed Salmond, saying that if Parliament does nothing following the seven-year Chilcot inquiry, “it will be almost impossible to restore faith that has been lost in our political system.”

Support for the motion wasn’t unanimous, with lawmakers from the ruling Conservatives, Blair’s Labour Party and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists all criticizing Salmond for politicizing the issue.

“If we just turn these post-Chilcot debates into an attempt to pursue and hound Tony Blair, the whole thing just turns into a party-political argument,” said Ken Clarke, a Tory who has served as chancellor of the exchequer, home secretary and justice secretary. “Personalizing it rather, if we’re not careful, loses the point of: Are we satisfied that everything is being done to make sure it can’t happen again?”

Lawmakers will vote on the motion later on Wednesday. Blair has yet to lay out his precise plans for a return to politics.

(Updates with debate comments from Salmond, Lucas, Clarke, starting in fifth paragraph.)
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