Craig Woodhouse, Political Reporter

25 Jan 2011

Conflict: Tony Blair sent British troops into Kosovo in 1999

Number 10 wanted to find intelligence to show military action in Kosovo was working but changed tack after being told it “wasn’t acceptable” by the head of the civil service, the Iraq Inquiry heard.

Lord Wilson of Dinton, cabinet secretary between 1998 and 2002, told the inquiry he was clear No 10 should not be involved in preparing intelligence and presenting it to the public.

“I had a view that Number 10 should be a customer for intelligence but not involved in its preparation,” he said. “They should be at the receiving end of it but they should not be involved in it.”

Lord Wilson said he “won” the argument during the Kosovo conflict, between 1998 and 1999. The dossier alleging Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was published by the Blair government in 2002, before the invasion in March 2003.

Lord Wilson also described how New Labour, a “small group”, saw the Cabinet as where prime minister Tony Blair “was meeting the people who reported to him” rather than being first among equals. It was Mr Blair’s role to “devise and impose strategy” with Cabinet colleagues reporting to him, which was “subtly different” to a collective system.

Lord Wilson claimed they thought they were following the model set by Margaret Thatcher. But he said: “Any idea that Mr Blair was emulating Mrs Thatcher is one that I do dispute – although it appears often in what people write,” he said.

Baroness Thatcher “did not take her colleagues for granted” and had more formal, minuted meetings on important issues because she “accepted the need for the system and collective-decision making”.

The inquiry continues.

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