One big thing to remember about the Iraq War as the Chilcot Report is published

The long awaited Chilcot Report will be published in a few minutes.

On the eve of publication, Twitter amused itself by guessing #chilcotslastline

My favourite came from Lib Dem Josh Dixon.

I suspect that in the wall to wall coverage today, one big thing will be missing. There will be comparatively few mentions of the one UK party that opposed the war from the start. That would be the Liberal Democrats.

Taking an anti-war stance is a courageous thing. Charles Kennedy showed enormous courage and resolve in doing so. He was roundly abused, accused of not supporting our troops, called every traitorous name under the sun.

In fact, the Sun, as you would expect, heaped ire on him as this headline shows:

It was taking a huge risk, too. He suspected, but didn’t know, that they weren’t going to find weapons of mass destruction capable of reaching the UK in 45 minutes.

I felt huge pride in the party at the time.

Watch his speech to the anti-war rally on 15 February here.


Also worth watching is his full speech to the House of Commons during the debate on the Iraq War on 18 March 2003. I also include the text from Hansard. Note the the extent of the aggression from Conservatives, including one Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Fabricant, that he faced.

Note the manner of Charles’ intervention. He sticks to the facts and at the end acknowledges the Prime Minister’s sincerity even though he does not agree with him. In a highly charged atmosphere he kept his cool and made his case.

It goes without saying how much we miss him.

Following the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), I acknowledge with thanks, through him, to the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and to all those concerned in all parties in this House, that an honest option has been discussed and agreed in a cross-party way. In the previous debate, the right hon. Gentleman made a powerful contribution to that cross-party basis, which needs to be heard and discussed rationally today.

Although it is sad that we have lost a very good Leader of the House, there is no doubt, having listened to his brilliant resignation statement in the House yesterday evening, that those of us who are supporting the cross-party amendment in the Lobby tonight, as I and my right hon. and hon. Friends will do, have gained a powerful additional advocate for the case that we are sincerely making.

Given the events of the past few days and the last few hours, there has been much understandable comment about the drama of the situation. In the next few hours and days, however, we are liable to see even more drama and trauma when what appears to be the inevitable military conflict against Iraq begins. Let us hope, as we all agree, that the conflict can be conducted as swiftly as possible, with the minimum of casualties: first and foremost, clearly, among our forces, but equally among innocent Iraqi civilians, with whom none of us has ever had any quarrel and who have suffered terribly under the despicable regime of Saddam Hussein.

As for those of us who remain unpersuaded as to the case at this time for war, and who have questioned whether British forces should be sent into a war without a further UN mandate having been achieved, there stands no contradiction—as the former Leader of the House and former Foreign Secretary put succinctly last night—between giving voice to that legitimate anxiety and, at the same time, as and when exchange of fire commences, looking to the rest of the country, and to all of us in the House, to give full moral support to our forces. They do not take the civilian political decision in relation to what they are being asked to do, but they must carry out that task in all our names. The shadow Leader of the House expressed that well last night, but, equally, Church leaders, who earlier expressed profound opposition to war in this way at this time, are making the same point. If, later tonight, at the conclusion of this debate, under the democratic procedures that we enjoy in this House, that is to be the decision, it is important that the whole House unites in that genuine support.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Can I therefore take it that if the amendment is lost the right hon. Gentleman will vote for the substantive motion?

Mr. Kennedy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but the answer is no. I will not do so because our consistent line is that we do not believe that a case for war has been established under these procedures in the absence of a second UN Security Council resolution. That is our position—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) should not make such a remark. She will withdraw it.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): I withdraw that remark.

Hon. Members: Let’s hear it.

Mr. Speaker: Order. All the House has to know is that I heard the remark.

Mr. Kennedy: I will see you afterwards, Mr. Speaker—[Hon. Members: ” Oh.”] I assure the House that a Glaswegian Speaker knows whether that is said as a threat or affectionately.

Mr. Duncan Smith : The right hon. Gentleman failed to answer my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack). Will he clear up an inconsistency? On the one hand, he said that he wanted to support the troops, while, on the other, he said that he would not support the main motion. He has a split in his party. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) has said that

“legally, no new resolution is required for the use of force to implement resolution 687.”—[Official Report, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c. 43.]

Lord Goodhart, however, has said that the existing resolutions on the Iraqi situation, particularly 1441, do not authorise armed intervention without a second resolution. Which position is that of the Liberal Democrats, and why do they travel across two separate positions?

Mr. Kennedy: First, my noble Friend Lord Goodhart spoke with great authority as an international lawyer in the House of Lords debate last night. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) spoke on that issue in September, before resolution 1441 was passed, and 1441 has moved the position on. I want to return to the issue of legality in a moment.

The Leader of the Conservative party chose to open his contribution with one or two remarks about me and my hon. Friends, which is perfectly fair in this debate. In relation to consistency, however, let us remind ourselves about the position of the Conservative party, for instance, on weapons of mass destruction. After Saddam Hussein used such weapons in 1988, the Conservative Government continued to sell arms to Iraq. They provided him with anthrax and other chemical weapons, and they approved the construction of dual-use factories in Iraq. When it comes to humanitarian reasons—

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the right hon. Gentleman is in the act of misleading the House, given that the Scott inquiry made it clear that the Conservative Government did not sell any chemical weapons to the Iraqi regime during the 1980s, how can one make him withdraw his remark?

Mr. Speaker: I can help the hon. Gentleman. These are matters for debate, and it may be that some hon. Member may be able to rebut the right hon. Gentleman’s case.

Mr. Kennedy: Continuing—

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kennedy: No—

Hon. Members : Give way.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman is not going to give way.

Mr. Kennedy: To be fair, I am in the process of replying to the right hon. Gentleman’s party leader.

If Conservatives speak about the need for consistency on the international stage with respect to humanitarianism, as several have over many months, why did they not support the humanitarian intervention in Sierra Leone or the use of ground troops in Kosovo? Why did they veto 11 United Nations resolutions relating to apartheid South Africa when they were in government?
Mr. Lilley rose—

Hon. Members: Give way!

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Kennedy: We do not need moral lectures from the Conservative party—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to be heard. Every other party leader has been listened to properly and he should get that courtesy too.

Mr. Kennedy: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My concluding remark to the leader of the Conservative party is that if I saw the names of three former Cabinet Ministers who served in the last Conservative Government listed in support of the amendment on the Order Paper, I might try to sort out my own party before I started lecturing other party leaders.

Mr. Lilley rose—

Hon. Members: Give way!

Mr. Kennedy: There are legitimate questions that need to be raised—

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the leader of the Liberal Democrats not to give way to a right hon. Member who was Minister when the accusations were made?

Mr. Speaker: That is not a point of order. The right hon. Gentleman should know better.

Mr. Kennedy: I do not think that the Conservatives like the more extensive answer that their leader just received.

As the activity of our armed forces progresses, legitimate questions—

Mr. Lilley: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kennedy: No, I am not giving way—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) is disrupting the speech. Take my word for it: the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) is not going to give way.

Mr. Kennedy: When it comes to the further engagement of our armed forces, it would be proper for hon. Members to raise legitimate questions, as many have in all parties, on the supply and suitability of equipment, the eventual war aims, the participation of British forces and the bombs that might be used. It would be right to ask whether we would desist from resorting to cluster bombs or depleted uranium. It would also be right to ask about the longer term role that we hope British forces will play, if the war ensues, in the humanitarian and reconstruction roles on which they have such a distinguished track record. That is why we have supported the UN route, and it will be a source of great regret if the motion is passed because British troops will be put into action.

There are, however, two specific things on which the Government are right to expect and deserve significant credit over the course of the past six months. The first is that they were instrumental in persuading a reluctant United States to go down the UN route.

Everything that I have been party to and privy to over the past six months persuades me that that is the case. The second is that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and other senior colleagues have been consistent in emphasising to the Americans and others the primary need to re-establish a meaningful middle east peace process.

Jim Knight (South Dorset): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kennedy: I shall just finish this point and then of course I shall give way.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Oh! You will not give way to the person you accused. What a disgrace!

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must calm himself.

Mr. Kennedy: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What makes this week so sadly ironic is that the very moment when the Bush Administration at last embraced the fresh urgency over the middle east peace process was the very time when they chose to abandon the UN route. Let us face it, having taken the decision to abandon the UN route, the sudden embrace of the middle east peace process with refreshed urgency arouses the suspicion among many that the two are not unconnected and, perhaps, that if they are willing to do one, they may be willing to abandon the other or to go lukewarm at a later stage.

Jim Knight rose—

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage) rose—

Mr. Kennedy: I shall give way to the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) first.

Jim Knight: I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, although it is tempting to ask why he gives way to some hon. Members and not to others. He pays tribute—rightly, in my view—to the Prime Minister for engaging with the United States, but he also believes that it is right to release them into isolationism, which makes progress on the middle east settlement less likely. Why is that?

Mr. Kennedy: I do not accept that thesis, and I shall explain exactly why. It is best summed up by the words used by Kofi Annan over the past few days. In the absence of a further explicit United Nations resolution, which is obviously the position in which we find ourselves, he remarked last week:

“The legitimacy and support for any such action will be seriously impaired. If the USA and others go outside the Council and take military action it will be not be in conformity with the Charter.”

That raises very serious questions on which we should reflect. Only yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General said:

“If the action is to take place without the support of the Council, its legitimacy will be questioned”

and the international support will be diminished. We are right to reflect on those considerations.

Mr. Robert Jackson: The right hon. Gentleman has not answered the question asked by the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight). Having quite correctly praised the Prime Minister and the Government for the influence that they have exerted on the middle east peace process, will he please explain how his vote tonight will contribute to maximising British influence on that process?

Mr. Kennedy: I think that I have responded to that. It is best for the process to proceed through the auspices of the United Nations itself. If we undermine the legitimacy and authority of the United Nations, that cannot assist us in re-establishing the middle east peace process.

Although I have never been persuaded of a causal link between the Iraqi regime, al-Qaeda and 11 September, I believe that the impact of war in these circumstances is bound to weaken the international coalition against terrorism itself, and not least in the Muslim world. The big fear that many of us have is that the action will simply breed further generations of suicide bombers.

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the reason for the failure of the United Nations and diplomacy is not the threat posed by the French, Germans, Russians, Chinese and the international community, but the American Administration of hawks and oil merchants who have no intention of finding—and no reason to find—a peaceful resolution to the crisis?

Mr. Kennedy: There is great anxiety in the country, especially about the more hawkish elements of the Bush Administration. If the people of this country were given the choice of whom they would prefer to vest their trust in, they would undoubtedly go for the present Secretary-General of the United Nations rather than the President of the United States.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kennedy: No. I shall not give way now; I want to make progress.

Last night, the Foreign Secretary told the House that everyone knew what they were signing up to on resolution 1441. However, we should consider what the British and American ambassadors said when they secured that unanimity. The British ambassador said:

“Let me be equally clear in response, as a co-sponsor with the USA of the text we have just adopted, there is no ‘automaticity’ in this resolution.”

The American ambassador—his counterpart—said:

“If there is a further Iraqi breach . . . the matter will return to the Council for discussions as required”.

With China, France and Russia, as permanent members, not acknowledging that an automatic trigger has taken place, it is clear that people agreed to resolution 1441 on different bases. The historians will have to judge why that came about, but that is the position in which we find ourselves. To circumvent the continuing legitimate task of the weapons inspectors, who say, and who have been instructed unanimously in the name of the international community, our own countries included, that they should be given extra space, to cut that process short, will cause all the international disorder, tension and potential chaos that we are warning against and have been for quite some time.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kennedy: No, I am about to conclude.

Before launching an almighty assault upon Iraq, is it not better to pursue the course of disarmament on the ground in the presence of weapons inspectors? No matter how sophisticated modern technology, even compared with at the time of the last Gulf war, is it not more precise to have weapons dismantled in the presence of inspectors rather than so-called precision bombing trying to take them out?

There is huge public anxiety in Britain. That is the mark of a fundamentally decent society. All of us, whatever our views, whatever our parties, know that the kind of people contacting us are very different from many of those with whom we deal regularly. They are the kind of people who say, “I have never contacted a Member of Parliament before,” or “I’ve never been politically active before.” They are the kind of people who have never gone on a march or attended a vigil before. Another significant point is that, whether or not they agree with the Prime Minister, only a tiny fraction ever call into question his sincerity in this matter. I have never done so and I do not do so today. But much as they detest Saddam’s brutality, they are not persuaded that the case for war has been adequately made at this point, they are worried about the new doctrine of regime change, they are wary of the Bush Administration’s motives, and they do not like to see Britain separated from its natural international allies.

The cross-party amendment is the correct amendment. It is tabled at the correct time, and, if passed, would send the correct signal. It is on those grounds that the Liberal Democrats will vote for it tonight.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Great pity we didn’t do the same over Libya and two ‘goes’ at Syria…..

  • As much as I miss the ever-wise Charles Kennedy I always like to remind folk (because they forget) that the crazy sanctions on Iraq prior to the war had already killed a million children and were set to kill more. The question about going to war for Liberals was not so much about phony WMD’s or the abject awfulness of the regime but about just how many folk should additionally die for US political ambition (in the US 80% were convinced by a somewhat pathetic media that Saddam had something to do with 9/11).

    But at first, you may remember, the troops were warmly welcomed and there was very little actual bloodshed. If we had pulled out quickly, having established a new government as General Garner had advised then it could all have been so different.

  • Ruth Bright 6th Jul '16 - 12:27pm

    Thoroughly agree about the horrible way Kennedy was treated in that debate. Every political party has its own mythology though. The Iraq demo was on February 15 2003. I went to a parliamentary candidates’ meeting with Kennedy on March 3 and there was considerable discomfort about the party’s position. As a parliamentary candidate I had gone on the demo with many friends from South Central Lib Dems but many did NOT want to be seen there and although we send a picture to the local press we hardly used Iraq in our 2005 election literature because elements of the local party were pro-war.

    The party been brave on this issue but the picture is a complex one not just at grassroots level in the party but at the top level too.

  • Charles is very greatly missed in every sense. I remember watching and admiring his courage as he ploughed on in the debate with Mike Moore sitting next to him – and of course Ming giving great support and forensic skill – there is so much for Scottish Liberals to be proud of.

    Interesting to note that those giving Charles hostility were Tories Mr” Brexit” Peter Lilley, the now discredited Mr “‘Expense’s” Andrew Mackay, Andrew Turner well known in Private Eye – not to mention the absurd Michael Fabricant whose lush hirsute creation resembles Donald Trump. What a bunch of egotistical rascals….. and to think it was thought possible to be in Coalition with them !!!

    Also at the time, I was especially proud of my daughter – a first year student at Manchester Uni – who broke the habit of a lifetime by getting up at 3.00 am in order to go by coach to the great demonstration in Hyde Park.

    I was proud to be a Liberal when Charles led the party.

  • Brexit and this just remind me how much we miss CK just now.

  • Tony Dawson 8th Jul '16 - 8:47am

    The Sun’s front page yesterday shows that Murdoch consistency is no different really than Murdoch honesty. For the paper which branded Charles Kennedy as a venomous snake and asked readers to throw darts at Robin Cook and Claire Short because they stood up to Blair over Iraq to now slam Blair on its front page is beyond belief . . . .except, sadly, it’s not. It is fully predictable.

    Next front page Sun headline:

    “Liverpool Fans are all Saints” ? 🙁

    This is nicely understated:

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