During his session with the Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister conceded to Sir George that the weapons of mass destruction may never be found. (See text of full exchange below)
Tony Blair answering Sir George's questions
"I asked the Prime Minister about this last year, and he insisted that the Iraq Survey Group would prove him right. They haven't; and he did what he should have done some time ago - admit that the evidence may never be found."
Q236 Sir George Young: Prime Minister, can we try to round off a discussion that we had a year ago when you appeared before the Liaison Committee? You were pressed quite hard by a number of us on weapons of mass destruction. On several occasions you referred to the Iraq Survey Group, and you invited us to wait and see. We have waited but we have not seen. Do you now accept that the evidence may not be there?
Mr Blair: The Iraq Survey Group will do a final report, but, as I think I have said elsewhere, the two things we do know are these: we know that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction but we know we have not found them.
Q237 Sir George Young: We knew that a year ago, and you invited us to wait and see the evidence. You went on to say: “I am very confident they will find the evidence.” Sir Jeremy Greenstock, on Sunday, said the evidence is just not there. Do you agree with him?
Mr Blair: As I say, what I have to accept is that I was very, very confident we would find them; I was very confident, even when I spoke to you this time last year, that the Iraq Survey Group would find them because all the intelligence and evidence we had was that these weapons of mass destruction existed. I have to accept that we have not found them and that we may not find them. What I would say very strongly, however, is that to go to the opposite extreme and say, therefore, no threat existed from Saddam Hussein would be a mistake. We do not know what has happened to them; they could have been removed, they could have been hidden, they could have been destroyed. At some point, I hope that we will find, when the Iraq Survey Group make their final report, exactly what it is they say. As you know, the Iraq Survey Group, and what they have said already, indicates quite clearly that there have been breaches of the United Nations’ resolutions. They do not, in any shape or form, say he was not a threat but, it is absolutely true, they have said that in their view the stockpiles of WMD have not been found.
Q238 Sir George Young: If we may never find them, in retrospect, perhaps, was it a mistake to put so much emphasis on weapons of mass destruction and less emphasis on regime change?
Mr Blair: I think the important thing is to go back to what the purpose of this action was. The purpose of the action was in order to enforce the United Nations resolutions. That is why I say it is very important not to go to the other extreme and say, “Because we have not found actual stockpiles of WMD, therefore he was not a threat.” It is absolutely clear from the evidence that has already been found by the Iraq Survey Group that he had the strategic capability, the intent and that he was in multiple breaches of the United Nations’ resolutions. There is no point in me sitting here and saying “I am saying the same to you now as I said a year ago” because the year has passed and we have not found the actual stockpiles of weapons. I genuinely believe that those stockpiles of weapons were there; I think that most people did, and that is why the whole of the international community came together and passed the United Nations resolution it did, but that is a very different thing from saying Saddam was not a threat; the truth is he was a threat to his region and to the wider world, and the world is a safer place without him.
Q239 Sir George Young: I think we fought the right war but it sounds as if we fought it for the wrong reasons.
Mr Blair: No, I do not think that is right either, because I think that that would be to suggest there was no issue in relation to Saddam and WMD. What Jeremy Greenstock said on Sunday is probably what most people speculate about, because, as I say, we know he had the weapons – he used them against his own people – but we have not found them. So you have to accept that. The question is what was the nature of this threat from Saddam? Maybe it is different in the sense that he retained strategic capability and intent; he may have removed, hidden or even destroyed those weapons – we do not know and we have to wait for the Iraq Survey Group to complete its findings – but what I would not accept is that he was not a threat and a threat in WMD terms.