Tony Blair - ‘I ask people to put themselves in my shoes as Prime Minister’

Tony Blair holds a press conference at Admiralty House, London, where responding to the Chilcot report he said: "I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe."
Tony Blair holds a press conference at Admiralty House, London, where responding to the Chilcot report he said: "I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe."
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TONY Blair staunchly defended his decision to invade Iraq saying he would do so again if he had been presented with the same information.

In an hour long speech and an intense session of questions from the media, he said that he had not lied or decieved Parliament and wanted people to stop staying that he was “lying” or had “underhand motives”.

In what started out as a full and frank admission of personal sentiment, in which Mr Blair appeared on the verge of tears, his first press conference on the war resulted in a repeated defence of his actions.

While the former Labour Prime Minister said he accepted the report’s findings on the planning and the process of decision making, he said the Chilcot report had not set out the cost of inaction.

He said he knew people wanted him to say that he made the wrong decision but he maintained: “I can’t do that.”

He said committing British troops to the US led invasion in 2003 was “the hardest, most momentous, most agonising decision I took in ten years as British Prime Minister.

“For that decision today I accept full responsibility without exception and without excuse.”

“I recognise the division felt by many in the country over the war and inparticular I feel deeply and sincerely in a way that no words can properly convey the grief and suffering of those who lost ones they loved in Iraq, whether members of our armed forces...or Iraqis.”

He said the intelligence assessments made at the time of going to war turned out to be wrong and it was clear efforts to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein had since led to Iraqis becoming victims of “sectarian terrorism”.

He said: “For this I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you can ever know or believe.”

He described Saddam Hussein as “a well spring of terror” and if he had been left in power and when the Arab revolutions of 2011 began “he would have clung to power with the same deadly consequences we see in Syria today.”

Criticism that British soldiers went to war in vain from the families attending today’s Chilcot inquiry are disputed by Mr Blair.

He said: “I will never agree they made their sacrifice in vain. There were no lies, Parliament and Cabinet were not misled. Intelligence was not falsified and the decision was made in good faith.”

“However I accept the report makes serious criticisms of the ways decisions were taken.”

He denied he committed to war in 2002 in a meeting with President Bush in Texas. He said he pushed the US to chose the “UN route” as they had been reluctant.

The legal justification of the Iraq war was also dealt with by former Prime Minister who pointed out that Sir John Chilcot had not questioned the ultimate decision, but the process by which the decision was made.

Earlier in the Commons, Jeremy Corbyn condemned the decision to go to war as an “act of military aggression launched on a false pretext”, as he was heckled by his own MPs.

The Labour leader said the invasion and occupation of the country was a “catastrophe” as he responded to the findings of the Chilcot Report.

He also said the war had “fuelled and spread terrorism” instead of improving security at home and abroad.

Mr Corbyn was a fierce critic of the Iraq War, having previously described the action as “illegal”.

Today he reiterated his stance as he hit out at the decisions which led to the UK going to war.

However, Labour MPs, including Ian Austin, voiced their displeasure at Mr Corbyn’s statement as he spoke.

The Labour leader said: “The decision to invade and occupy Iraq in March 2003 was the most significant foreign policy decision taken by a British government in modern times.

“It divided this House and set the government of the day against a majority of the British people as well as against the weight of global opinion.

“The war was not in any way, as Sir John Chilcot says, a last resort.

“Frankly, it was an act of military aggression launched on a false pretext as the inquiry accepts and has long been regarded as illegal by the overwhelming weight of international legal opinion.”

Mr Corbyn said the invasion had “fostered a lethal sectarianism” that turned into a civil war.

“Instead of protecting security at home or abroad, the war fuelled and spread terrorism across the region,” he said.

He added: “By any measure, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has been for many a catastrophe.”