Blundering into war – and cover-up.
(Extracts from a speech in parliament, 20th February 2012)
This House engaged in a war with Iraq that was based on non-existent weapons of mass destruction, and 179 of our brave British soldiers died along with an uncounted number of Iraqis. We remained in Afghanistan and went into Helmand on the basis of a non-existent terrorist threat to the United Kingdom from the Taliban. When we went into Helmand, two British soldiers had died in warfare and five more in other ways; having gone into Helmand, however, the figure is now 398. We are now in a position of stumbling into another war on the basis of non-existent nuclear weapons and non-existent missiles.
Some of us present when those decisions were taken vividly remember how the decision on Iraq went through this House—not on the basis of truth or evidence, but because this House was bribed, bullied and bamboozled into taking a decision that many thought was wrong. The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) was one Member and the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) another who opposed that decision because the evidence was not there.
We should look at the evidence before us now of the threat from a missile in Iran with a range of 6,000 miles. Members will recall that we heard of this threat three or four years ago when America wanted to set up missile sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Russians were quite rightly angry about this, but the pretext for it was the protection of the Russians and the Poles from missiles from Iran. It was a wholly implausible threat and we have not heard much of it since, but now that an election is coming up in America, the myth has been resurrected.
I claim some pedigree in opposing nuclear weapons and nuclear technology in Iran. I raised the subject in December 1992 in parliamentary questions—I shall not bore the House with the details—to the then Minister, Michael Heseltine. At that time, we were told that it was absolutely right to hand over nuclear technology to our ally at the time—the Shah of Persia.
One Conservative Member said, “We must still punch above weight.” Why? Punching above our weight means dying beyond our responsibilities. A young soldier from south Wales died last month, but he will not be counted among the 398 dead in Afghanistan. He was shot twice there and was slightly injured in two further incidents involving improvised explosive devices, but the event that destroyed him was watching his virtually limbless best friend die in his arms. He came back broken in mind, and last month he took his life.
We have lost 398 and at least 1,000 others are also broken in mind and body because we as a House decided that we wanted to punch above our weight in the world. That was our decision, and we cannot escape from it. The present Government and previous Governments have tried to minimise the extent of the bereavement and the loss. Those who have suffered because of this, the loved ones and the bereaved, will face an awful situation in the future. When the death toll reaches 400, which it surely must, although we all regret it, all the grief will be churned up again and there will be attention to it. To get the list of the dead on to the Order Paper requires 24 early-day motions, but what we should look at is what those people will see. Many of them were consoled by the belief that their loved ones died in a noble cause—that they died preventing terrorism on the streets of Britain. What conclusion will they reach when, in a few years’ time, we hand over the government of Afghanistan to the very people whom we said we were fighting against, to the very same threat? We will be handing it back to the Taliban.
The hon. Member for Northampton South (Mr Binley) was absolutely right. The effect of our intervention in Iraq was to replace one rotten, cruel, oppressive regime with another rotten, cruel, oppressive regime, and the result in Afghanistan will be the same. A bad regime, the Taliban, will go out, and we will replace it with what? With the Taliban again. It seems extraordinary that we have to behave as though we were still in the 19th century and that Britannia still rules the waves. We do not have to take on these situations. We do not have to be the Little Sir Echo to American policy.
This is precisely about Iran, because it has been claimed that Adam Werritty and the former Secretary of State were in meetings with Israelis—indeed, it is a proven fact that at least five meetings took place—and that the subject of those meetings was Iran. That has been reported in many of our national newspapers. However, the investigation has yet to be carried out. We have seen a brief investigation by a civil servant who was not entitled to carry it out, and we have seen the resignation of the person who is the sole enforcer and who told a Select Committee that he believed that he, not Gus O’Donnell, should have conducted the investigation.
We have yet to find out what on earth was going on. Did we have a Secretary of State who was conducting his own foreign policy on Iran and perhaps bringing us to closer to war? The Select Committee has yet to finish its report, but a fortnight ago I asked Philip Mawer’s successor, “If the Committee decides that you are not a fit person to take on this job”—because he has not shown the robust independence that is necessary to the job—“what will you do?” He said that he would relinquish his position. That has yet to be decided.
Finally, let me say that the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay deserves great praise for introducing the debate. He has already succeeded.
Paul Flynn is Labour MP for Newport West
His diary and blog can be found here