19 December, 2006

Margaret Beckett on the 45 minute lie.

Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, has let slip to the BBC that ministers doubted the government's infamous claim, made in 2002 during the debates over invading Iraq: that Saddam Hussein could land WMDs on London within 45 minutes. In a BBC Radio 4 Today interview, the Daily Mail reports, Beckett said :

“That was a statement that was made once and it was thought to be of such little relevance — and perhaps people began quickly to say, ‘I’m not sure about that’ — that it was never used once in all the debates in the House of Commons.”

Her words imply Mr Blair and ministers quietly dropped the allegation yet failed to withdraw it or correct the record. After speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today show Mrs Beckett was challenged by presenter John Humphrys on why the claim had not been corrected in public.

She retorted: “Oh, come on — nobody thought it was relevant. Nobody thought it was a big sweeping statement.”
Little relevance? Not relevant? Not a big sweeping thing? People were not sure about it? At the time, everybody knew immediately, rather than quickly, that it was a crude lie. The lie, made by Blair at the suggestion of his press officer, Alastair Campbell, ignited the mother of all political rows, which was to leave in its wake one suicide, sundry reputations in tatters and arguably the most dishonest official report in British history: the Hutton Report. Two years later the hapless Lord Hutton is still trying to salvage his reputation.

For the next 7 days you can hear Beckett's interview on the BBC Radio 4 Today website under Listen Again for Tuesday 19th December 2006, towards the end of the 08:10-08:25 segment. The BBC does not do transcripts for the programme. Humphrys approached the claim through the recent Carne Ross story. What the Mail report does not convey is how much Beckett was caught unprepared by that and was obviously trying- and failing - to think on her feet.

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