Iraq War Was Illegal, Ex-deputy PM Prescott Says

Britain's former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott arrives for a weekly cabinet meeting at Downing Street in London May 4, 2006. Reuters

Britain broke international law when it invaded Iraq in 2003, its deputy prime minister at the time, John Prescott, said on Sunday in the wake of a critical report on the decision to go to war.

A seven-year inquiry concluded on Wednesday that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's justification, planning and handling of the Iraq War involved a catalog of failures, but did not rule whether the war was legal.

Eight months before the 2003 invasion, Blair told former U.S. President George W. Bush "I will be with you, whatever," eventually sending 45,000 British troops into battle when peace options had not been exhausted, the long-awaited British public inquiry said.

Prescott, writing in the Sunday Mirror newspaper, said he had now changed his view about the legality of the war and criticized Blair for stopping his ministers from fully discussing in advance whether the war would be legal.

"In 2004, the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that as regime change was the prime aim of the Iraq War, it was illegal. With great sadness and anger, I now believe him to be right," Prescott wrote.

"I will live with the decision of going to war and its catastrophic consequences for the rest of my life," he added.

Many Britons want Blair to face criminal action over his decision to take military action that led to the deaths of 179 British soldiers and more than 150,000 Iraqi civilians over the following six years.

"The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, came to the Cabinet, verbally announced it was legal, but provided no documentation," Prescott said. "The timing of the decision was clearly designed to endorse an almost immediate action for us to go to war."

Prescott added that he backed the decision by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn—a veteran anti-war campaigner and critic of Blair—to apologize for the war on behalf of the party.

Meanwhile, a cross-party group of lawmakers said they would seek next week a vote declaring Blair in contempt of parliament for misleading it in the run-up to the decision to go to war.

"Saying one thing to George W. Bush in private and a totally different thing to parliament and people in public, that is the parliamentary crime, the offence, and it is time for parliament to deliver a verdict," Scottish National Party lawmaker and former party leader Alex Salmond told ITV television.

The possible implications of such a vote were not immediately clear, but the Sunday Times newspaper said it could see Blair barred from public office or stripped of his membership of the Privy Council, a largely ceremonial body that advises Queen Elizabeth.