Tony Blair has said he accepts "full responsibility" for mistakes made in the run-up and during the Iraq War – but has strongly defended his decision to invade the country given the information that was available at the time.
The former prime minister said he felt "more sorrow and regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe" about the Iraq war and its aftermath, at a press conference called at short notice following the publication of Sir John Chilcot's damning report into his actions during the Iraq war.
But he mounted a defiant defence of the invasion during a long and emotional press conference in Whitehall on Wednesday, making clear that his apology was for mistakes in planning and preparation, not for the decision to take the UK to war itself.
He said he was haunted by the decision to invade Iraq, understood if people hated him, and said mistakes had been made – but he pleaded with the British public to accept that he didn't lie and he authorised the war because he felt it was the correct decision for the country.
"If I was back in the same place, with the same information I would take the same decision – that's the decision I believe was right," Blair told reporters.
After delivering a lengthy statement in Westminster with his voice croaking and surrounded by a substantial security presence, Blair said the decision to invade the country "was the hardest, most momentous, most agonising decision I took in ten years as British prime minister".
"For that decision today I accept full responsibility, without exception and without excuse. I recognise the division felt by many in our country over the war and in particular I feel deeply and sincerely – in a way that no words can properly convey – the grief and suffering of those who lost ones they loved in Iraq, whether the members of our armed forces, the armed forces of other nations, or Iraqis.
He accepted serious mistakes were made before, during, and after the conflict: "The intelligence assessments made at the time of going to war turned out to be wrong. The aftermath turned out to be more hostile, protracted and bloody than ever we imagined. The coalition planned for one set of ground facts and encountered another, and a nation whose people we wanted to set free and secure from the evil of Saddam, became instead victim to sectarian terrorism. For all of this I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe."
However, he went on to defend the decision to invade Iraq given the context and what was known at the time and the intelligence failings.
"As the report makes clear, there were no lies," said Blair. "Parliament and the cabinet were not misled."
"The decision was made in good faith," he added.
Blair has previously said his decision to invade Iraq would be judged by history. Asked by BuzzFeed News whether he now felt history would judge him well, the former prime minister was defiant: "Iraq under Saddam had no chance. Iraq today has a chance. So what history ends up deciding about Iraq is going to decide on what happens in the future.
"When you come back to the basic decision I believe that history will take a different view."
The former Labour prime minister said he was motivated into removing Saddam Hussein by a desire to protect the UK following the 9/11 attacks on American: "Your primary responsibility as prime minister is protect your country."
Blair said he disagreed with the inquiry's conclusion that the UK went to war before all peaceful options had been explored. Instead he said there was no "middle option" and he had hit a point where troops were waiting to be deployed and he had a binary choice between invading or pulling out of the region: "I didn't have the option of that delay. I took this decision with the heaviest of hearts."
"I accept that the report makes serious criticisms of the way decisions were taken. And again, I accept full responsibility for these points of criticism even where I do not fully agree with them."
But he said he "profoundly disagreed" with the idea that Saddam Hussein should have been allowed to remain in power.
Blair spoke for two hours straight in a press conference, reading a lengthy pre-prepared statement. He then purposefully took a question from every single journalist in the room and answered them all at length as he put forward a defence of his decision to invade Iraq.
The event took place in London's Admiralty House, a government building, with three different security checks for those present. In a sign of the risks posed to the former prime minister, the event was announced at just ten minutes' notice in an attempt to avoid protesters gathering outside.
Blair also said that although the legal advice could have been clearer the report does "alter the legal conclusion" about going to war.
Instead, he insisted his decision was still correct and he would do it again in the same circumstances.
"In the uncertain and dangerous world we live in, all decisions are difficult. The only thing a decision-maker can do is take those decisions on what they genuinely believe to be right and that's what I did."
"What I cannot do and will not do is say we took the wrong decision. I believe I made the right decision and the world is better and safer for it."
"At that time in March 2003 was that the right decision? Would it have been better if we'd taken the opposite decisions and what would have been the consequences fo that opposite decision?"
"I simply ask that people respect my point of view, and the judgment I took on the facts I had at the time."
He said he could not accept that the British soldiers "died in vain" because they were part of the global battle against terrorism.
But Blair suggested he was still haunted by the decision.
"There will not be a day of my life where I do not relive and rethink what happened."
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Jim Waterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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