In startling revelations, former British defence secretary Geoff Hoon has claimed that he was told to burn a memo from the attorney general that cast doubt on the legality of the Iraq war, boosting a campaign to strip former prime minister Tony Blair of his knighthood.
According to British newspaper Daily Mail report, Hoon said he was ordered by Downing Street to burn a secret memo that said the 2003 invasion of Iraq could be “illegal”.
Hoon, who was in charge of defence when the war started, said that his principal private secretary was told ‘in no uncertain terms by Jonathan Powell, Tony’s chief of staff, that after reading the document he must ‘burn it’.
Hoon wrote in his memoir, See How They Run, that he had been under pressure from Mike Boyce, the chief of defence staff, to provide him with clear legal direction that his forces could take action in Iraq, in lieu of a UN resolution authorising force, Daily Mail reported.
Hoon said the advice was “not an easy read” and concluded that the Iraq invasion would be lawful only if the prime minister believed that it was in the UK’s national interest to do so.
“It was not exactly the ringing endorsement that the chief of the defence staff was looking for, and in any event, I was not strictly allowed to show it to him or even discuss it with him,” he wrote.
“Moreover, when my principal private secretary, Peter Watkins, called Jonathan Powell in Downing St and asked what he should now do with the document, he was told in no uncertain terms that he should ‘burn it’.”
An online petition asking that Blair’s newly announced knighthood be rescinded has so far been signed by more than 700,000 people.
The petition was created by Angus Scott at change.org as soon as the New Year Honours were announced.
Scott accused Blair of causing “irreparable damage to both the constitution of the United Kingdom and to the very fabric of the nation’s society”.
“He was personally responsible for causing the death of countless innocent, civilian lives and servicemen in various conflicts. For this alone he should be held accountable for war crimes,” Scott added.
Describing Tony Blair as “the least deserving person of any public honour”, he asked Queen Elizabeth II to have the honour removed.
Blair’s knighthood caused an immediate backlash as he is often branded an architect of the 2003 Iraq War, which started in large part over claims of the existence of WMD in the country which were never found.
Critics have accused Blair of joining then-US President George W Bush and sending British troops with US forces to invade Iraq, an action causing the deaths of more than 200,000 Iraqi civilians.
The Blair government’s decision to join the war also faced a backlash and many protests due to the lack of any UN Security Council resolution on military action against Iraq.
Then-Foreign Secretary Robin Cook resigned from the Cabinet in protest over Blair’s decision to invade without the authorisation of a UN resolution.
An inquiry by Sir John Chilcot in 2016 said the Blair government had failed to exhaust all peaceful options before joining the coalition to invade Iraq.
“The judgements about Iraq’s capabilities… were presented with a certainty that was not justified,” the Chilcot report said, confirming the lack of discovery of WMDs.
More than 250,000 people, including combatants but mostly civilians, are thought to have been killed in Iraq’s upheaval since 2003.