Dear Mrs May: why are you shielding Tony Blair?
Letters to the Prime Minister and the Attorney General about the government’s decision to shield Tony Blair from a private prosecution for his conduct over Iraq
Rt Hon Theresa May MP
10 Downing Street
Dear Prime Minister,
The media have reported today that the Attorney General has intervened to block a private prosecution of Tony Blair over the Iraq war. I am not going to comment on the legal points (as reported) behind this decision. I would like to invite you to consider its wider political significance.
As a front-rank politician for many years, you will have noted the general collapse of public trust in government and indeed, many of the major institutions in British life. A major reason behind this is the perception that leaders and senior managers never accept, and are never compelled to accept, responsibility for error and failure. Sadly, the public have seen widespread evidence of this, over the banking crisis, over terrible episodes in the NHS, over examples of massive waste of public funds, over a succession of child abuse scandals. Occasionally, some suitable figure (such as Fred Goodwin) will be scapegoated. But the great majority of those responsible will move serenely into other well-paid appointments or into cushioned retirements and (usually) collect honours for their distinguished service.
Joining the Iraq war and occupation was the worst decision in Britain’s postwar history. It brought our country no benefits, only debt, danger, dishonour and death. As you know well, it has had a baleful effect on British policymaking ever since, and made it harder to secure public acceptance of the need to resist any genuine threat to our country. The Iraq inquiry report, when finally published, was a stark and damning indictment of those responsible, particularly Tony Blair. But no one at all has suffered any penalty in consequence, least of all Tony Blair. After becoming the richest ex-Premier in history by exploiting the experience and contacts he gained as Prime Minister at the taxpayer’s expense, he continues to hawk himself round the world as a statesman and to offer his simpering guidance to the British people.
I will return to Tony Blair but I would like to ask you first whether any person in public service (home, legal, diplomatic, military, intelligence and security) has suffered any kind of penalty for making, or acquiescing in, a bad judgment over Iraq, or conversely, received any kind of reward for resisting such a judgment or offering a correct one. I think that you yourself would find it very instructive to secure an answer to this question.
One other small question: did any person criticized in the Chilcot report accept its intended criticism without demanding a right to respond under the so-called “Maxwellization” process? All credit to any such person, although I suspect the answer is “no.”
Apart from the action on which the Attorney General has intervened, a number of families who were victims of the Iraq war are seeking to make Blair answer charges of misconduct in public office. I hope that the government will allow such an action to go forward so that the families at least have their day in court. If the government does intervene on Tony Blair’s behalf (and he is a very rich person who can afford his own defence) it will reinforce the public perception that their leaders will always look after each other and will never accept for themselves the rules and standards they prescribe for other people.
I would be grateful if you could invite the Attorney General to consider the view that the Chilcot report offers evidence to justify a prosecution of Tony Blair for the common law offence of manslaughter. The current CPS guidance on manslaughter suggests that there are two separate grounds for such a prosecution:
1) Causing death in an unlawful enterprise (akin to causing death by arson) or
2) Causing death by gross negligence of persons to whom he had a duty of care, namely our forces in Iraq and, as head of government of an occupying power, Iraqi civilians. In this case, the Chilcot report would be used to indicate that Blair’s feckless failure to assess and anticipate the risks of the war and occupation fell below the standards of competence expected in his position.
In either case, such a prosecution would re-establish the vital principle that no one in high public office is beyond the reach of the law.
Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC
5-8 The Sanctuary
London SW1P 3JS
I enclose a copy of a letter which your officials may already have received from the Prime Minister’s office.
On the matter concerned, an official spokesman made a somewhat delphic statement that you often intervene in private cases to protect the public interest. I would be grateful if someone could amplify this statement and explain why you believe that it would not be in the public interest for Tony Blair to be brought to court over Iraq. There can be no higher public interest than demonstrating that people in public office are subject to the rule of law.
Of course one wants to ensure that the courts do not pass judgments on political decisions: that would usurp the role of Parliament. But that assumes that those decisions were lawful, that the decision-maker acted within his or her authority and that he or she met the general standards of competence, diligence and integrity which are expected of public office-holders. When there is doubt about any of these points, it is right for this to be tested in the courts. The Iraq inquiry report amply supports such doubt: as I suggest in my letter, it provides double grounds for charging Tony Blair with manslaughter.