Alex Salmond has been warned by Ken Clarke against “personalising” the Chilcot Report as he led an SNP bid to trigger a parliamentary investigation into whether Tony Blair misled MPs in the run-up to the Iraq war.
The former first minister told MPs he believed the public was “grievously misled into that disastrous conflict” by the former prime minister. The SNP wants the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee to investigate any differences between the former Labour prime minister’s public statements and private correspondence with then US president George W Bush ahead of the 2003 invasion.
MPs overwhelmingly rejected the call for a parliamentary investigation yesterday, with Labour saying Mr Blair should not be a “scapegoat”. Despite cross-party support for the motion, Labour and Conservative MPs joined to vote it down by 439 votes to 70.
Mr Clarke, the Conservative former chancellor, suggested a focus on Mr Blair risked relegating the important issue of ensuring such a “catastrophic foreign policy decision” is not repeated.
Intervening on Mr Salmond, he said: “I agree with you about your descriptions of the catastrophic nature of the invasion of Iraq and I agree with you that the former prime minister has a lot to answer for and no doubt will continue to do so although he was cleared by Chilcot of deliberate misbehaviour.
“But do you not accept that if we just turn these post-Chilcot debates into an attempt to pursue and hound Tony Blair the whole thing just turns into a party political argument with Labour members of Parliament trying to defend the position of their government?
“Are you going in due course... to address the most important matter of how do we ensure that in future the system of cabinet government, the system of handling intelligence, the system of taking on board defence advice and the proper communication of that to all members of the cabinet and proper communication to Parliament cannot be repeated so that we don’t have another catastrophic foreign policy decision in future.
“Personalising it rather, if we’re not careful, loses the point of are we satisfied that everything possible is being done to make sure it can’t happen again?”
But Mr Salmond said the Chilcot Report concluded that “this was very much a personal campaign by the prime minister” as he said parliamentary accountability could act as a barrier to any repeat.
During the debate, Cabinet Office minister Chris Skidmore said there is “no merit” in further inquiries into the Iraq war.
And shadow foreign office minister Fabian Hamilton, who voted against the 2003 invasion, said the SNP motion risked “distracting” the House of Commons and the committee from its “true objective” of learning the “real lessons” of the Chilcot inquiry.
He also launched a defence of Mr Blair, telling MPs he did not believe the former prime minister had acted in “bad faith” when making the case for war.