POLITICS

Jeremy Corbyn Urged By Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) To Discipline MPs Who Back Anti-Blair Motion

New flashpoint between MPs and leader

28/11/2016 21:33 | Updated 01 December 2016
Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Labour MPs have urged Jeremy Corbyn to oppose a Commons move to reprimand Tony Blair for his record on Iraq.

The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) asked Corbyn to defeat an SNP motion, which calls for an investigation of the former Prime Minister for allegedly misleading Parliament over his case for the 2003 war.

The motion, which has the backing of the Greens and Plaid Cymru, declares that the Chilcot Inquiry’s release of Blair’s “I’ll be with you whatever” note to George Bush proved that he misled MPs about his intentions.

If passed, it would order a fresh Parliamentary inquiry into Blair’s conduct, with the possibility of him being stripped of his Privy Council membership, an honour granted to senior ministers.

Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Jeremy Corbyn, speaking after the Chilcot Inquiry report was published

At its weekly meeting, the PLP heard former ministers Ben Bradshaw and Pat McFadden heavily criticise suggestions floated this weekend that ‘senior figures’ in the party were poised to support the SNP motion.

The party had been expected to impose only a one-line whip on the vote due on Wednesday, effectively allowing its MPs to back it without any serious sanction.

In an unusual move, Opposition Chief Whip Nick Brown decided on a show of hands and MPs voted overwhelmingly to instead impose a three-line whip.

Among those who agreed on the stronger whipping were members of the frontbench, including Keir Starmer and Barry Gardiner, Labour sources told HuffPost UK.

Brown said he would inform the Shadow Cabinet of the PLP”s feeling on the topic at its meeting on Tuesday.

Isabel Infantes/EMPICS Entertainment
Alex Salmond

Former SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond is among the big names on the motion.

It calls on MPs to recognise that the Chilcot inquiry:

“provided substantial evidence of misleading information presented by the then prime minister and others on the development of the then government’s policy towards the invasion of Iraq as shown most clearly in the contrast between private correspondence to the United States government and public statements to parliament and people”.

Jeremy Corbyn has been a consistent critic of Blair’s Iraq policy, and was one of the few to oppose it at the time in the historic Commons vote on the eve of the US-led invasion in March 2003.

Corbyn said this summer that he would “probably back” a motion, which had been tabled by Salmond and David Davis, accusing Blair of a contempt of Parliament over his Chilcot evidence.

He told the Andrew Marr Show: “I urge colleagues to read the Butler report and read the Chilcot report about the way in which Parliament was denied the information it should have had.

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David Davis

“Parliament must hold to account, including Tony Blair, those who took us into this particular war.”

But Bradshaw hit out after Brown suggested a one-line whip would be imposed on the SNP motion.

The former Culture Secretary told the PLP SNP motions were usually deliberately designed to embarass or divide Labour and this was “a prime example”.

He said it was an “unacceptable” not to whip fully against a motion that “deliberately distorted” the findings of the Chilcot report and “perpetuates the lie” that Tony Blair misled Parliament and Cabinet “when Chilcot made clear he acted in good faith”.

Bradshaw added that it was “unacceptable” to read anonymous senior Labour figures quoted in Sunday newspapers saying they may back the motion.

PLP chair Jon Cryer said he had personally been a fierce critic of Blair over Iraq but the motion was wrong to suggest he had lied to Parliament.

McFadden contrasted the recent leadership remarks on Fidel Castro with the failure to whip against a “mendacious motion” that traduced a Labour leader who had led the party to three election victories.

Laura Lean/PA Wire
Ben Bradshaw

When Davis was invited to join the Cabinet in July, Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood told him that he would have to withdraw his name from the motion. Davis agreed to do so.

Blair’s allies deny that his note to Bush - months before the war - proves he said one thing to MPs and another in private.

They point out that Sir John Chilcot did not conclude that Blair had lied or misled MPs.

Sir John told the Liaison Committee: “I absolve him [Blair] from a personal and demonstrable decision to deceive parliament or the public – to state falsehoods, knowing them to be false.”

But he did say that Blair “went beyond the facts” in making the case for war and behaved like a lawyer in a way that “damaged” politics and trust.

At the PLP meeting, some MPs criticised Corbyn’s decision to praise Fidel Castro’s “heroism” in a tribue to the late Cuban leader.

Others questioned why Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, was being sent to Havana to represent the party at Castro’s funeral this coming weekend.

Labour MPs wanted to know who would pay for the trip, be it taxpayers or the party.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is not going to the funeral and Minister of State Sir Alan Duncan is expected to represent the UK Government instead.

Corbyn’s office announced on Monday that he would not be attending the funeral himself.

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