Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

We Doubted Our45-Minute WMD Claim, Admits Beckett

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

We Doubted Our45-Minute WMD Claim, Admits Beckett

Article excerpt


MARGARET BECKETT today admitted the Government realised before the Iraq war that its 45-minute claim about Saddam Hussein's weapons may have been wrong.

The Foreign Secretary said the claim had not been repeated in Commons debates before the 2003 invasion of Iraq because it was already deemed " irrelevant" and people were wondering if it was really true.

In the 2002 Downing Street dossier making the case for war, Tony Blair had written that Saddam could have WMDs ready for use within 45 minutes of an order being given.

Today Mrs 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."

In fact, the 45-minute claim was at the heart of the Downing Street dossier issued in September 2002.

Writing in the foreword to the dossier, Mr Blair said: "The document discloses that his military planning allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them." The claim was repeated four times in the dossier and cited in at least one speech by Mr Blair to see off a Commons rebellion.

It was also central to the bitter row over whether the dossier was "sexed up" which led to the death of Ministry of Defence weapons scientist David Kelly in July 2003.

After the failure to discover any WMD in Iraq following the invasion, the BBC reported the claim had been inserted at the behest of spin doctor Alastair Campbell. …

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