Norman Baker calls for Tony Blair to be “impeached”

Former Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker has called for Tony Blair to be impeached over his conduct in the run-up to the Iraq War.

Baker told the Argus:

“We have had to wait a long time for this and there is a sense that justice delayed is justice denied.

“Tony Blair is in terrible self denial. Saying the evidence wasn’t sexed up can only be trying to keep his spirits up. You almost feel sorry for him.

“He should just admit he was wrong and move on.

“I would like him to be impeached and made to defend himself because he has done so much wrong. ”

Mr Baker said he knew that the inquiry would not re-examine the death of weapons inspector David Kelly – having discussed the remit of the report with John Chilcot several years ago.

Mr Baker published his own dossier of evidence which he believes casts doubt on the Hutton Inquiry’s key conclusion that Dr Kelly killed himself in 2003.

So what is all this impeachment about?

The Parliament website explains:

Impeachment was a means by which Parliament could prosecute and try individuals, normally holders of public office, for high treason or other crimes and misdemeanours. The impeachment process was invented prior to the creation of popular political parties and the establishment of the conventions of collective and individual ministerial responsibility. When impeachment was used, for example in the 16th and 17th century, it represented the only means by which Parliament could dismiss an individual holding office under the Crown.

The first edition of Erskine May, published in 1844, describes impeachment as: “the commons, as a great representative inquest of the nation, first find the crime and then, as prosecutors, support their charge before the lords; while the lords exercising at once the functions of a high court of justice and of a jury, try and also adjudicate upon the charge preferred”.

It’s now considered obsolete because:

Impeachment operated in an era when Parliament and the courts had very limited oversight of government power. Different mechanisms have developed in modern politics to allow for the scrutiny of the executive. These include parliamentary questions, inquiries by select committees and independent committees of inquiry. The growth of the doctrine of collective cabinet responsibility, and the use of confidence motions have both contributed to the disuse of impeachments in modern times. Judicial review also now provides an effective check on the legality of the actions of public officials and government ministers. The impeachment process, last attempted in 1806, has not been revised to reflect the fundamental changes that have occurred in Parliament.

There was an attempt of sorts to impeach Blair back in 2004 by a group of MPs including Alex Salmond and Jenny Tonge, but it didn’t get very far.

What I can’t find from the parliamentary briefing is what happens if an impeachment is successful. I can only find references to removal from office, which wouldn’t obviously apply to Blair as he removed himself from office almost a decade ago.

What, therefore, would be the point in impeachment?

It may be that those advising the families will find some other way to pursue the former Prime Minister in the courts.

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  • Maybe a Bill of Attainder would be the more effective mode, as it was with Lord Strafford.

  • Denis Loretto 9th Jul '16 - 8:19am

    It is clear that many have much on their consciences – both politicians and others. For example the signing off of the September 2002 dossier by (now Sir) John Scarlett was a disgrace – albeit Blair was the main perpetrator. I am proud of the courageous stance taken by the Lib Dems led by the late great Charles Kennedy. My feeling is that he would not have wanted us to be involved in impeachment proceedings.

  • One thing I have learned from Chilcot that wasn’t obvious/predictable in 2003 is Blair’s real motives. He is an idealist. He thought he could create a new world order of peace and democracy and brushed aside anything that interfered with that vision. He now looks broken by reality, and ‘self-denial’ is clinging on to the only rock he has left.
    I don’t see anyone blaming Bush much any more, or calling for those who surrounded Blair to be keel-hauled. How about the likes of Ann Clwyd, saying she’s not changed her mind?
    The families are considering civil action. Personally, I think that, and the global pillorying this week, is enough.

  • Tony Dawson 9th Jul '16 - 12:26pm

    I am in a bit of a quandary on this one. Dominic Grieve MP last night on Any Questions’ pointed out that impeachment is a rather illiberal process which might well be prohibited by the European Convention of Human Rights. But Blair is really being let off scot free by an establishment which has different rules for different classes of ‘offender’. Tony Blair’s self-delusion and dishonesty-by-default (which Chilcott defines as NOT being fraudulent because all Blair did was make deficient decisions on deficient evidence and not allow other less-biased Cabinet members to take part in an informed debate and decision-making) is apparently to go unpunished. Whereas John Profumo was banished from the London cocktail circle for years for the sin of being caught ‘in flagrante’, a man whose deficient decision-making and belief that his own pathetic resolution of his indecision was better than sharing the decision-making with more capable individuals gets off scot-free despite being responsible for hundreds of thousands of lives and plunging an entire sub-continent into turmoil.

  • Conor McGovern 9th Jul '16 - 1:41pm

    It’s good to hear Norman making this case, controversial or not. Sometimes I think many of us in the Lib Dems are too polite or too nice. Shame he lost his seat.

  • Dominic Grieve said on Any Questions last night that impeachment was not human rights compliant.

  • @Tony Dawson Actually, wasn’t Profumo’s downfall because he lied to the House of Commons rather than indiscretion.

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