Parliamentary motion to impeach Tony Blair (November 2004)
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On November 2004, a cross-party group of British MPs tabled a motion in the House of Commons to impeach the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time, Tony Blair for "high crimes and misdemeanours". The motion was never debated.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Matrix is known for its advocacy of human rights cases and for being the chambers of Blair's wife, Cherie Booth QC. Booth was not involved in the case due to the obvious conflict of interest.
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
- 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 17 March 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.
The following members of the previous Parliament supported the original impeachment motion:
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.
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:
- David Amess
- Richard Bacon
- Angela Browning
- Nigel Evans
- Roger Gale
- Edward Garnier
- John Gummer
- Douglas Hogg QC
- Boris Johnson
- Richard Ottaway
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:
Scottish National Party
- A Case To Answer and the legal opinion are now also available in printed form (ISBN 0-85124-704-0) from Spokesman Books.
- Singh QC, Rabinder; Professor Conor Gearty (22 September 2004). "IN THE MATTER OF AN IMPEACHMENT OF THE PRIME MINISTER" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 September 2004. Retrieved 8 June 2010.
- "Impeachment". House of Commons Library. 6 June 2016. Retrieved 8 June 2017.