The case for impeachment
There is no doubt Blair misled parliament over the war
Wednesday September 22, 2004
The attempt to impeach the prime minister for his misconduct over the Iraq war highlights the value of using the history of our democracy as a living instrument to preserve freedom today. The idea - first floated in these pages in January and led by Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price - is now supported by his own party, the SNP, the Green party and 20 individual MPs. Matrix Chambers is today giving us their legal opinion on the initiative. Sceptics sneer that the proposal is unrealistic, but the case for it is growing ever stronger.
First, Tony Blair made many statements relating to the Iraq war that we now know were contradicted by the very sources - such as reports from the Joint Intelligence Committee - he claimed to rely on. The list runs to 40 pages in the report I prepared with Glen Rangwala, the WMD expert, for Adam Price.
Second, any reasonable person would conclude that some or all of his statements were misleading. Third, there is a clear constitutional standard requiring ministers to resign for such conduct.
Fourth, the pre-Iraq standard of resignation was applied to the MPs Beverley Hughes and Peter Mandelson. Hughes resigned because she forgot she had received one letter. Mandelson resigned first because he did not give proper information to his civil servants about a private loan, and again because there was a dispute about whether or not he had made a phone call to another minister. A reasonable person would conclude that the prime minister's misleading statements are far more numerous and serious than the above.
Fifth, Blair remains in office, refusing any examination of his conduct. Sixth, if he gets away with it, a new constitutional precedent will have been established, namely that misleading the country is acceptable. Seventh, constitutional authorities such as Erskine May describe how impeachment can be used as a last resort.
But is it practical? Surely, the massive Labour majority will protect Blair. How soon people forget that on university top-up fees that majority was down to five.
It seems likely that Price and his colleagues will want a substantial period of public debate and a review of the parliamentary procedure before formally initiating a debate. The likelihood is that Blair's misconduct and potential impeachment will be discussed through the party conference season and deep into the winter. Over this time the campaign will grow.
The impeachment campaign has attracted widespread media support. Price and his colleagues have managed to put impeachment on the political agenda after a century and a half.
A month ago, bringing impeachment back to Britain seemed a romantic dream on a par with the beauty queen's proverbial aspiration for world peace. Perhaps realising our dream is easier than we think.
· Dan Plesch is the author of The Beauty Queen's Guide to World Peace