Impeach Blair campaign

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Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair was subjected to calls for impeachment during his time in office.

On 26 August 2004, a cross-party group of British MPs announced their campaign to impeach the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time, Tony Blair for high crimes and misdemeanours.

A campaign to impeach the US President, George W. Bush began around the same time and alleged evidence of collusion between the two leaders has since surfaced.

Viability[edit]

In the US, impeachment was used as recently as 1999, but in the UK the most recent previous impeachment motion was made in 1848 (by Thomas Chisholm Anstey against the Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston, who was accused of concluding a secret treaty with Russia). The campaigners first needed to establish that impeachment was still viable in modern politics. On 17 November 2004 the speaker ruled their motion in order and it was tabled for the next session.

Initial Presentation[edit]

In August 2004, Adam Price MP commissioned and published the report: A Case to Answer: a first report on the potential impeachment of the Prime Minister for High Crimes and Misdemeanours in relation to the invasion of Iraq. The document was written by Dr Glen Rangwala (lecturer of politics at University of Cambridge) and Dan Plesch (Honorary Fellow of Birkbeck, University of London.) The report is 111 pages and divided into two sections.

Section I[edit]

The first part of the report details evidence for charges that an MP could use when moving for impeachment. The evidence detailed by the report suggests that Tony Blair:

  • made unsupported statements to the house and the public;
  • failed to report counter-evidence;
  • failed to verify claims in the evidence;
  • failed to remove errors found in the evidence; and
  • made a secret agreement with US President George W. Bush to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

Section II[edit]

The second part examines the history of impeachment proceedings and looks at the possibility of bringing impeachment proceedings in modern government. It also gives the impeachable offences for which it claims Tony Blair must offer a defence:

  • failing to resign after misleading parliament and the country;
  • making a secret agreement with a foreign power;
  • undermining the constitution; and
  • negligence and incompetence.

Finally, it gave precedents for considering the conduct of a Prime Minister.

Legal Opinion[edit]

The campaign hired solicitor Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers to represent their case. They have also asked Matrix Chambers to draw up a legal opinion.[1] Matrix is famous for its advocacy of human rights cases and because they are the chambers of Blair's wife, Cherie Booth QC. Booth was not involved in the case due to the obvious conflict of interest.

Drafting Team[edit]

The drafting team for the motion was announced on 13 October 2004:

It appeared that the team would also draft the articles of impeachment. In earlier impeachment cases, this has usually been done after the motion, although it also occurred first in the case of Warren Hastings.

The drafting team completed the text of the impeachment motion on 7 November 2004.

The Impeachment Motion[edit]

Impeachment Motion - Conduct of the Prime Minister in relation to the war against Iraq
That a select committee of not more than 13 Members be appointed to investigate and to report to the House on the conduct of the Prime Minister in relation to the war against Iraq and in particular to consider;
(a) the conclusion of the Iraq Survey Group that in March 2003 Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction and had been essentially free of them since the mid 1990s
(b) the Prime Minister’s acknowledgement that he was wrong when in and before March 2003 he asserted that Iraq was then in possession of chemical or biological weapons or was then engaged in active efforts to develop nuclear weapons or was thereby a current or serious threat to the UK national interest or that possession of WMD then enabled Iraq to inflict real damage upon the region and the stability of the world
(c) the opinion of the Secretary General of the United Nations that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was unlawful
(d) whether there exist sufficient grounds to impeach the Rt Hon Tony Blair on charges of gross misconduct in his advocacy of the case for war against Iraq and in his conduct of policy in connection with that war.
That the Committee shall within 48 days of its appointment report to this House such resolutions, articles of impeachment or other recommendations as it shall think fit.

The legal advisers to the speaker approved the wording of the motion on 17 November 2004. The motion was tabled for the first day of the next session (the day after the Queen's Speech) on 24 November 2004. However, the main three parties forbade their MPs from signing the motion and it was never selected for debate.

If the motion had been selected, it would have allowed MPs to debate matters that parliamentary language otherwise forbids. For example, on March 17, 2005, the anniversary of going to war, Adam Price accused Tony Blair of misleading the house. Because this breached the rules of parliamentary language, he was required to leave the House for the remainder of the day. However, such rules only apply to debate within the House. In press and radio and television interviews, other MPs have accused Blair of lying to the House and to the British People, including then opposition leader Michael Howard.

Support[edit]

The following members of the previous Parliament supported the original impeachment motion:

Conservative Party[edit]

The party's official position was for MPs not to sign the impeachment motion. However, the following Conservatives were listed as supporters of the campaign:

Labour Party[edit]

The official position was originally to dismiss the campaign as a stunt. Since the order paper was first tabled, the party have simply ignored it.

  • Peter Kilfoyle was the only Labour MP to support the campaign, but he withdrew his support before the selection process by his constituency office began for the upcoming 2005 election.

Others[edit]

Liberal Democrats[edit]

Although the party wanted an enquiry into Blair's handling of the war, their official position was not to support the impeachment. However, the following Liberal Democrats were listed as supporters:

Plaid Cymru[edit]

Scottish National Party[edit]

Other supporters[edit]

Current status[edit]

Despite the lack of debate on the original impeachment motion, Adam Price has pledged to continue his campaign. However, with the resignation of Blair on 27 June 2007, the entire issue of impeachment is now moot.

In November 2005, the campaign announced a new motion (this time with the support of the Liberal Democrats) asking for a Commons committee to examine the conduct of ministers before and after the war.

On 23 November 2005, the campaign tabled an Early Day Motion:

"Conduct of Government Policy in relation to the war against Iraq"
That this House believes that there should be a select committee of 7 Members, being members of her Majesty's Privy Council, to review the way in which the responsibilities of Government were discharged in relation to Iraq and all matters relevant thereto, in the period leading up to military action in that country in March 2003 and in its aftermath.

The motion has collected 151 signatures, including some Labour back-benchers.

Labour Reaction[edit]

Tam Dalyell, then Labour Party MP for Linlithgow said:

“I was sent the document. I read it very carefully. It's easy just to dismiss it and say the whole thing is preposterous. But as a document I think it requires refutation in some detail. What they have produced is a perfectly serious document that makes a coherent case.

“But if I and other Labour MPs endorsed it, there would be a terrible row about treachery. One would be labelled as a traitor and have to defend oneself. I don't mind being called a traitor, but I don't think it would help much.

“I have been quite open in saying I want the Prime Minister to go because of Iraq. I made a speech during the debate on the Butler Report last month in which I said he should resign. Downing Street is trying to close down the impeachment attempt by dismissing it as a joke.”[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Further information[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Singh QC, Rabinder; Professor Conor Gearty (2004-09-22). "IN THE MATTER OF AN IMPEACHMENT OF THE PRIME MINISTER" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2004-09-23. Retrieved 8 June 2010.