The campaign to strip Tony Blair of his knighthood was boosted last night by devastating allegations from his own defence secretary.
Geoff Hoon says he was ordered by Downing Street to burn a secret memo that said the 2003 invasion of Iraq could be illegal.
When the claim emerged in 2015, Sir Tony said it was ‘nonsense’. But Mr Hoon, who was in charge of defence when the war started, insists the allegation was true and he has now given a sensational blow-by-blow account of a No 10 ‘cover-up’.
He says his principal private secretary was told ‘in no uncertain terms’ by Jonathan Powell, Sir Tony’s chief of staff, that after reading the document he must ‘burn it’. Mr Hoon said the MoD mandarin was deeply alarmed by the order – and they defied Downing Street by locking the memo in a safe instead. He also:
- Echoes claims that Sir Tony signed a ‘deal in blood’ with George Bush to back the war a year before it began;
- Reveals he was given a prime ministerial dressing down for telling the US that if MPs voted against the war UK troops couldn’t take part;
- Accuses the No 10 press office of being behind notorious ’45 minutes from doom’ reports that exaggerated the threat from Saddam Hussein’s military;
- Says he was sacked and ‘hung out to dry’ by Sir Tony to escape blame for the war.
Sir Tony Blair meeting troops in the port of Umm Qasr, Iraq in 2003. Geoff Hoon says he was ordered by Downing Street to burn a secret memo that said the 2003 invasion of Iraq could be illegal
When the claim emerged in 2015, Sir Tony said it was ‘nonsense’. But Mr Hoon (pictured), who was in charge of defence when the war started, insists the allegation was true and he has now given a sensational blow-by-blow account of a No 10 ‘cover-up’
The allegations came as the number of people who have signed a petition calling for a U-turn on the former Labour prime minister’s honour approached 600,000.
The Queen has made him a knight companion of the Order of the Garter, Britain’s oldest order of chivalry.
The onslaught from Mr Hoon in his memoir, See How They Run, is all the more damaging because he was one of Sir Tony’s closest personal and political allies. He describes his shock at being told to destroy secret advice from attorney general Lord Goldsmith on the legality of the war in the run-up to the conflict. It was later revealed that Lord Goldsmith said the war could be illegal. Days before fighting began, he changed his mind and said it was legal.
The official Chilcot report on the Iraq War delivered a devastating verdict in 2016 about the handling and presentation of intelligence and the justification for military action.
It raised serious questions about the way Lord Goldsmith hardened up his legal advice days before the war started – after the circulation of the memo that Mr Hoon says he was told to burn.
The inquiry ‘concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were far from satisfactory’.
Human rights lawyer Philippe Sands revealed the existence of Lord Goldsmith’s legal advice in his 2005 book, Lawless World. Professor Sands, of University College London, said yesterday: ‘When Lord Goldsmith wrote the legal advice warning that war in Iraq could be illegal, he can hardly have expected that those who received a copy would be told to ‘burn after reading’.
‘Yet Mr Hoon says that this is what he was told, offering further confirmation of what has long been known – ministers, parliament and the public were misled by Mr Blair into supporting a war that was seen by many as unlawful and a crime. In modern Britain, it seems, such a manifest act of wrongdoing does not preclude the offering of a high-level gong.’
Mr Powell last night denied telling Mr Hoon to burn the legal advice.
The onslaught from Mr Hoon in his memoir, See How They Run, is all the more damaging because he was one of Sir Tony’s (pictured) closest personal and political allies. He describes his shock at being told to destroy secret advice from attorney general Lord Goldsmith on the legality of the war in the run-up to the conflict
He said that months earlier he had sent copies of a separate ‘minute’ from Lord Goldsmith on the legality of the war to the Whitehall private offices of Mr Hoon and foreign secretary Jack Straw. At the request of Lord Goldsmith he had asked both to ‘destroy the minute – not burn it – and the attorney general’s advice came later’.
Mr Powell joined Sir Tony as chief of staff when he became Labour leader in 1995, took up the same role in No 10 when he became prime minister and stayed with him until he left Downing Street in June 2007.
A source close to Mr Hoon said Mr Powell was wrong and insisted the former defence secretary was told to burn Lord Goldsmith’s ‘legal advice’ sent weeks before the conflict, not a separate minute sent months earlier.
In his memoir, which came out in November, Mr Hoon savages Sir Tony for sacking him in 2005 over the phone: ‘He was unable to give out bad news – even bad news of his own making. I always had doubts about his handling and treatment of people. I was hung out to dry. Tony never seemed bothered about who got which ministerial jobs.’
Damning truth about Sir Tony Blair’s war: As revealed by his own defence secretary in new memoir that lays bare an order to burn memo on legality of Iraq invasion. So how can ex-PM be worthy of an honour?
By Simon Walters for the Daily Mail
He was defence secretary as Britain edged towards war – which means Geoff Hoon had a front-row seat for the most controversial moments in Sir Tony’s premiership. His new memoir reveals astonishing insights about the conflict in Iraq… and raises more troubling questions about his former boss’s knighthood.
Downing Street’s orders to ‘burn’ legal advice
Mr Hoon, then defence secretary, says No 10 ordered him to ‘burn’ secret legal advice from Sir Tony’s attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, which said the Iraq war could be illegal.
When the claim first emerged in 2015, the former PM said it was ‘nonsense’ – but Mr Hoon insists in his book, See How They Run, that the order was delivered by Sir Tony’s No 10 chief of staff Jonathan Powell. Mr Hoon defied the order and made sure the advice was locked in a safe at the Ministry of Defence.
What the book says: ‘British troops must act in accordance with the law. I was under pressure from Mike Boyce, the Chief of the Defence Staff, to provide him with the clear legal authority allowing him and the forces under his command to take action.
US President George W. Bush (right) and British Prime Minister Tony Blair wave after their joint press conference at Crawford High School in Crawford, Texas, in 2002
‘Without a clear mandate in the form of a second UN resolution authorising the use of force, the UK’s participation in any invasion depended on a complex interaction involving several not entirely consistent UN resolutions. It was the responsibility of Lord Goldsmith to resolve the question. He produced a very long and very detailed legal opinion that only sophisticated scholars of international law would understand.
‘I was sent a copy from Downing St under conditions of considerable secrecy. I was told that it was for my eyes only and that I should not discuss its contents with anyone else. I had no idea who else had received a copy.
‘I read the opinion several times; it was not an easy read. Eventually I came to the view that the attorney general had decided that invading Iraq would be lawful if the Prime Minister believed that it was in the UK’s national interest to do so. It was not exactly the ringing endorsement that the Chief of the Defence Staff was looking for, and in any event, I was not strictly allowed to show it to him or even discuss it with him. Moreover, when my Principal Private Secretary, Peter Watkins, called Jonathan Powell in Downing St and asked what he should now do with the document, he was told in no uncertain terms that he should ‘burn it’.
‘Peter Watkins was the very model of a principled British civil servant, and that instruction worried him greatly. He asked me what we should do and I agreed that we should lock the document securely into an MoD safe to which only he had access. For all I know it is probably still there.’
Blair and Bush’s 2002 Texas summit
Mr Hoon appears to back claims that Sir Tony signed a ‘deal in blood’ with George W Bush when they met in April 2002 at the President’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, to discuss a war with Iraq.
Sir Tony has always denied the allegation. At the time he said he was seeking a diplomatic solution.
However, leaked White House memos showed that US Secretary of State Colin Powell assured Bush a week before the summit that ‘Blair will be with us’ if the war went ahead.
What the book says: ‘Shortly after Tony Blair’s visit to Crawford, an invitation came from the Americans for British involvement in the planning. There was no sense at the time, as far as I was concerned, that this was the result of any agreement that he had entered into with the Americans… even on the day of the Parliamentary vote many months later, I still believed that British participation in the invasion of Iraq was conditional. The Crawford meeting has, in retrospect, assumed much greater significance, and involved much greater controversy than was apparent at the time.’
The ’45 minutes from doom’ dossier
Notorious media reports claimed Iraq had weapons that meant UK sites were ’45 minutes from doom’. The claim arose from a dossier on Saddam Hussein’s weapons drawn up by intelligence chiefs. Sir Tony and his director of communications, Alastair Campbell, denied responsibility – but Mr Hoon points the finger of blame directly at Downing St.
What the book says: ‘I was asked by a lawyer at [one of the official Iraq inquiries] why I had not corrected a newspaper story that had suggested that the so called ’45-minute warning’ referred to the possibility that Saddam Hussein could launch missiles against British bases in Cyprus.
‘I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about at the time. I later found out that the question referred to two articles in The Sun and Evening Standard, which included provocative photographs of missiles being launched. When I checked the dates of their publication against my diary, I established that I had been in Kiev meeting the president of Ukraine at the time. I had obviously been aware of the ’45-minute warning’ issue. Indeed, when the draft dossier was circulated I had specifically asked to speak to an expert from Defence Intelligence so that I could properly understand what the warning referred to. He told me he assumed it referred to the time taken to deploy and fire a chemical artillery shell. Since it was well known that Saddam Hussein had used such shells in the war with Iran – and against his own people – the explanation did not cause any great surprise.
Soldiers from the 1st Batallion The Parachute Regiment carry out training exercises with a Chinook helicopter in the Kuwaiti desert Monday March 17, 2003
‘I had absolutely no idea at the time of giving my evidence to the Hutton inquiry that the ’45-minute warning’ issue had been deployed by the press office in Downing St in a very different context.’
The raging PM
When Mr Hoon told the Americans that British troops would be unable to take part in a war if MPs voted against it, the minister recalls Sir Tony reacting with fury.
What the book says: ‘I had one of my regular phone calls with Donald Rumsfeld. I needed to say to him that if we lost the vote later that day, Britain would not be able to join in the invasion.
‘I was not expecting to lose but thought it appropriate to explain the political and constitutional significance of what was happening in the Commons. [Mr Rumsfeld] went from the call to a press conference where he referred to our conversation, stating that… they had ‘work-arounds’ to compensate for a possible British no-show.
‘The British media took it as meaning that the UK was not really needed; a story that run through the lunchtime news bulletins. As they concluded, I received a comprehensive Prime Ministerial bollocking over the telephone.’
Mr Hoon (R) was sacked as defence secretary over the phone in 2005 – two years after the Iraq war began (Blair and Hoon pictured together in 2004)
Hung out to dry
Mr Hoon was sacked as defence secretary over the phone in 2005 – two years after the Iraq war began.
What the book says: ‘When Tony told me he had to ‘let me go’ as Defence Secretary I was seriously unimpressed. After I had done almost six years in one of the most difficult, demanding and unpopular jobs in his government, he wanted me out.
‘I was sufficiently irritated to protest that it was ‘unfair’. I was annoyed he had not chosen to see me and tell me to my face. He was unable to give out bad news – even bad news of his own making.
‘I did wonder whether it was a media scheme dreamed up by Alastair Campbell to distance at least part of the Government from Iraq, but given that joining in the war had been driven through by Tony, that hardly made sense.
‘I always had doubts about his handling and treatment of people. He seemed completely uninterested in his strongest supporters.
‘I was hung out to dry. Tony thought that being PM was the only job that counted. He never seemed bothered about who got which ministerial jobs. It was said that attending dinner parties in Islington was more significant than any number of speeches in support of him.’
As bereaved mothers, we are heartbroken by Tony Blair’s knighthood. We beg Your Majesty to revoke it: Read the gut-wrenching cry over former Prime Minister’s honour… from five parents who lost their sons in Afghanistan
By Liz Hull, Rose Dunn and Andy Jehring for The Daily Mail
Five mothers who lost their soldier sons during the war in Afghanistan have written to the Queen urging her to strip Tony Blair of his knighthood.
The ‘heartbroken’ mothers claim the former prime minister caused ‘untold misery’ when he sent British troops to fight in Helmand Province and Iraq ‘on a bed of lies’.
In a desperate letter to their ‘beloved’ monarch, Carol Valentine, Hazel Hunt, Caroline Whitaker, Caroline Jane Munday-Baker and Helen Perry, pleaded with her to overturn the decision to give the 68-year-old the top gong.
‘We beg you to revoke his knighthood which we believe tramples on our sons’ sacrifices,’ they said.
The mothers – whose sons were aged between 21 and 29 when they died – say Sir Tony has soldiers’ deaths on his hands and should face a war crimes trial instead of receiving an honour.
Some of them even threatened to send back the Elizabeth Crosses bestowed onto them by the Queen in national recognition of the sacrifice borne by their families.
In the open letter, the women say: ‘As mums, we were destroyed by the loss of our children at war, but now we are further devastated to learn that the man responsible for sending them to their deaths is to receive the highest honour in the land.
‘It makes a mockery of our children’s lives, and we are struggling to cope.’
The mothers say they believe the Queen – herself a ‘devoted’ mother and grandmother – ‘will understand our plight’.
They continue: ‘We are all struggling to understand how a man who has caused so much worldwide upset and devastation could be given such a privileged award.
Hit explosive as he was driving: Trooper James Munday, 21, (left) son of Caroline Jane Munday-Baker (right), served alongside Princes William and Harry in D Squadron of The Household Cavalry. Both royals said they were ‘deeply saddened’ to hear news of the ‘exceptional’ soldier’s death in October 2008. Known as ‘Magpie’, the rugby fan died at the scene when the Jackal armoured vehicle he was driving hit an explosive device while on routine patrol in Helmand Province. In tributes, senior officers described Munday, from Birmingham, as ‘among the best of his generation’
Fatally wounded while on patrol: Private Richard Hunt (left), son of Hazel Hunt (right), had been in the Army less than two years when he became the 200th British soldier to die in the war in Afghanistan. He was fatally wounded when his armoured vehicle was blown up while on patrol near Musa Qala in Helmand Province. Private Hunt, of Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, served with the Royal Welsh Regiment. The 21-year-old, known as ‘Hunty,’ died from his injuries at the Royal College of Defence Medicine in Selly Oak, Birmingham, on August 15, 2009, two days after the explosion
Killed trying to clear landmines: Sergeant Simon Valentine (left), son of Carol Valentine (right), was killed on August 15, 2009, while trying to clear landmines on foot patrol near Sangin, Helmand Province. The 29-year-old was an experienced soldier, from Bedworth, Warwickshire. He had survived tours in Kosovo, Northern Ireland and Iraq, during his time with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Married to his wife Gemma, he was described as a born leader who was loved by his troops
‘He has caused untold misery while making himself a multi-millionaire at the same time. We do not view him as a man of peace – on the contrary, we maintain he has the deaths of all our soldiers on his hands.
‘This has left us all enraged, bewildered, and heartbroken and we beg you to revoke his knighthood which we believe tramples on our sons’ sacrifices.’
The letter emerged as Sir Keir Starmer insisted his predecessor ‘deserves the honour’ – despite nearly 600,000 people signing a petition calling for it to be rescinded.
The Labour leader also went on the attack, saying Boris Johnson had not ‘earned the right’ to be knighted and that there was a ‘world of difference’ between the two PMs. Sir Keir, who marched against the Iraq War in 2003, added: ‘I understand there are strong views on the Iraq War. There were back at the time and there still are.
‘But that does not detract from the fact that Tony Blair was a very successful prime minister and made a huge difference to the lives of millions of people in this country.’
But Mrs Valentine – whose son Sgt Simon Valentine, 29, was killed while trying to clear land mines near Sangin in 2009 – said she hoped the Queen ‘slips with her sword and cuts his bloody head off’. She added: ‘Tony Blair should not be rewarded for taking our sons from us. He deserves nothing less than a war crimes trial.
Shot in ‘friendly fire’ incident: Lance Corporal Michael Pritchard (left), son of Helen Perry (right), was killed in a ‘friendly fire’ incident in Sangin on December 20, 2009. The 22-year-old soldier, of the 4th Regiment, Royal Military Police, was born in Maidstone, Kent, but lived in Eastbourne, East Sussex. He had been deployed to an observation post to check Taliban fighters were not planting IEDs (improvised explosive devices) on a road. It is thought that another British soldier fired at him thinking that L/Cpl Pritchard was an insurgent, an inquest heard
Gunned down by rogue policeman: Sergeant Gareth Thursby, 29, (left) son of Caroline Whitaker (right), was shot dead by a rogue Afghan policeman alongside another British soldier at a checkpoint in Helmand Province on September 15, 2012. The married father of two from Skipton, North Yorkshire, served in the 3rd Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment. He was an inspirational leader known to his men as ‘Dad’. An inquest heard that no motive was found for the lethal attack
‘The troops always referred to our Queen as ‘the boss’ and now I feel so let down by this knighthood.’ Mrs Hunt, whose son Private Richard Hunt died aged 21 following an explosion while on patrol in Musa Qala, said she would give back her Elizabeth Cross in ‘disgust’.
‘I will never call him Sir no matter what happens. He’s not fit to lace our soldiers’ boots,’ she added. And Mrs Munday-Baker, who lost her trooper son James Munday at the age of 21 when his vehicle blew up, said the gong was a ‘travesty’.
She added: ‘Blair should have his head bent, alright, but in shame, not to receive a knighthood. He should be made to walk through a field of IEDs like our children did.’ Mrs Perry, who lost her military police officer son Michael Pritchard, 22, to a ‘friendly fire’ incident, said she ‘nearly choked’ when she heard about the honour.
And Mrs Whitaker, whose 29-year-old son Sgt Gareth Thursby was shot dead by an Afghan policeman in 2012, said the bereaved mothers were members of a ‘club’ none of them wanted to belong to.
‘On the days I can’t hold it together they pick me up and I do the same for them when they fall,’ she said. ‘I can’t get my head around this decision to knight Blair. Our sons may have been cannon fodder to him, but they were our flesh and blood.’
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman yesterday refused to comment on the issue, saying that knighthoods were a matter for the Queen. However he pointed out that ‘every former prime minister before Tony Blair has received the Order of the Garter or Thistle’.
Asked whether Mr Johnson believed the petition’s signatories were wrong, the spokesman said it was ‘a matter for the Queen’.