One of the consistent claims of Tony Blair, and other government witnesses, to Sir John Chilcot has been that the famous Iraq dossier was a non-event – and so cannot have been the great deception that is alleged (by me, among many others).
Today Mr Blair said: “The thing that strikes me most was how the dossier was received… as somewhat dull and cautious at the time [of publication]… It has taken on a far greater significance than it ever did at the time.”
Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff said the dossier was “not such a big deal” and was seen at the time as a “damp squib”. Jack Straw said it was “treated as really rather prosaic and telling people what they knew”. Alastair Campbell, of course, said nobody would ever have remembered it without the allegations I made afterwards.
Worryingly, Chilcot appears to be buying this. He said to Powell that with the exception of the famous “45 Minutes From Attack” splash in that day’s Evening Standard “it was seen as a dull document and had little impact”.
Chilcot must not fall for this rewriting of history. Parliament has only been recalled three times in the last ten years – for 9/11, the death of the Queen Mother, and to launch the dossier. In the seven and a half years since the dossier there has been no further recall of Parliament.
In his evidence Jack Straw claimed to quote my own first reaction to it, about an hour after it was published, on that morning’s Today programme, saying that I said it was “dull”. Alas, Mr Straw’s representation of what I said about the dossier is as faulty as his representation of what the intelligence services said about Iraqi WMD.
Although I did say that the majority of the document was “cautious and measured in tone,” which it was, I said the document included a number of “spicy angles” and “lines designed to make headlines for the tabloids”. And the ones I picked out were the 45-minute claim, and the claim that Saddam had continued to make progress with his WMD – both of which, we now learn, should never have been published.
The dossier was our lead item on the Today programme that morning, and went on to be a huge event which dominated the print and broadcast media for days. A simple Nexis database search shows that the following day’s national newspapers carried more than 100 separate stories mentioning weapons of mass destruction.
Thirty-nine stories mentioned the dossier’s most notorious element, the 45-minute claim. Most newspapers mentioned it in their front-page splashes and many in their headlines.
Those headlines included:
“Mad Saddam Set To Attack – 45 Minutes From A Chemical War” (Star)
“Why Saddam Must Be Stopped… Dossier Reveals Iraq Can Attack in 45 Minutes” (Telegraph)
“Missiles Fire In 45 Minutes” (Times)
“Brits 45 Minutes From Doom” (Sun)
“‘Saddam Has Plans For Chemical And Biological Weapons That Could Be Activated In 45 Minutes'” (Times, headline on edited transcript of Blair speech)
“Straw Tells MPs that Weapons Could Be Activated In 45 Minutes” (Times)
“Saddam ‘Could Have Nuclear Bomb In Year'” (Times)
“He’s Got ‘Em – Let’s Get Him” (Sun)
Not all that dull, cautious, and lacking in impact, then!