Labour MPs Argue Over Iraq War As Tony Blair Accused Of 'Bribing' Backbenchers To Support Invasion

MPs in furious clash

Labour divisions over the Iraq War erupted into a heated row on Wednesday, after a former shadow cabinet minister accused Tony Blair of bribing MPs to vote in favour of the 2003 invasion.

The argument happened as MPs voted 439 to 70 against subjecting Blair to a parliamentary investigation into the war.

Speaking during the Commons debate before the vote, Paul Flynn said some Labour MPs had been “bribed bullied, bamboozled” into supporting the then prime minister.

His accusation promoted fury from other Labour MPs including cries of “outrageous”. Ian Austin intervened on Flynn to complain: “Is it in order for an MP to allege that others members of this House were bribed - paid to vote a particular way - should he not produce evidence for it? What a disgrace.”

Labour MP Iain Auston clashes with fellow Labour MP Paul Flynn over the Iraq War
Labour MP Iain Auston clashes with fellow Labour MP Paul Flynn over the Iraq War

Austin, the MP for Dudley North, reacted with anger after Flynn told the Commons:

“We know that during that debate, 139 of my comrades on the Labour benches voted against the war - a courageous thing to do because we were under great pressure.

“But there were 50 others who had grave doubts about the war and they were, in my view, bribed, bullied, bamboozled into voting the wrong way and many of them regretted it very much since.”

Flynn, a veteran Labour MP who until recently served in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, clarified his comments and said he did not mean MPs had been paid money to vote in favour of war.

“There is such thing as political bribes, with inducements and offers, we are well aware. There was avery heavy pressure here to vote for war,” he said.

The clash came as MPs prepared to vote on whether to trigger a parliamentary investigation into whether Blair did mislead MPs in the run-up to the conflict.

Led by the SNP, the Commons motion was backed by the Greens, Plaid Cymru, Tory MP Sir David Amess, and Labour’s Kate Hoey.

The debate has split Labour. Jeremy Corbyn, a harsh critic of the invasion, rejected pleas from his backbenchers that Labour MPs be forced to vote against condemning Blair.

The Labour leader decided to impose only a one-line whip on his MPs for the vote - meaning they were not obliged to attend. And Corbyn himself missed the vote.

Alex Salmond, who led the debate, said Corbyn would be “joining” SNP MPs in voting against Blair if he was able. “What Iraq demonstrates is that currently at least there are no effective checks and balances in our system,” Salmond said. “The prime minister had the ability to create the circumstances in which this house followed him into an illegal conflict.”

Labour shadow foreign affairs minister, Fabian Hamilton, who voted against the invasion, accused the SNP of trying to “scapegoat” Blair for the collective failure of the British foreign policy establishment.

“I voted against our government because I thought our prime minister was simply wrong. But never for one second did I believe he was acting in bad faith and I do not do so now,” Hamilton said of Blair.

Austin, who today clashed with Flynn, recently heckled Corbyn in the Commons, telling the Labour leader to “shut up”, as he criticised Blair during a parliamentary speech.