The notorious claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction deployable at 45 minutes' notice was formally abandoned by Britain's intelligence services yesterday.
Two years after Tony Blair put the claim at the centre of the Government's case for military action to disarm Saddam, the Government disclosed that John Scarlett, the chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), had withdrawn the intelligence on which it was based.
Last July, the Butler inquiry into pre-war intelligence failings disclosed that intelligence sources in Iraq on the 45-minute claim and the production of biological weapons must be treated as unsafe.
Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, told the Commons yesterday that, as a result of further investigation by MI6, Mr Scarlett had formally withdrawn two lines of intelligence reporting relating to the 45-minute claim and a "liaison service", which was responsible for a false claim that Saddam was producing a biological weapons agent.
The dossier was drawn up by Mr Scarlett, who at the time was head of the Joint Intelligence Committee. He was later promoted by Mr Blair to head of the SIS.
Downing Street last night rejected calls for Mr Blair to apologise to the Commons, even though he had told MPs on Sept 24, 2002 that the intelligence on Saddam's WMD was "extensive, detailed and authoritative", and that the Iraqi leader had active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons that could be activated within 45 minutes.
Last month, Mr Blair told the Labour Party conference that he could apologise for the information that turned out to be wrong but could not apologise for removing Saddam.
Downing Street said yesterday that there was no need for Mr Blair to repeat that apology to the Commons.
Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, wrote to Mr Blair last night, urging him to make a Commons statement on the report of the Iraq Survey Group that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He said the report "shows beyond doubt that we went to war on a false premise".
In the Commons, Mr Straw rejected a demand by Gary Streeter, the Conservative foreign affairs spokesman, that Mr Blair should now apologise to the country "for the way this intelligence was conveyed by the Government to the country".
Mr Straw said the criticism of Mr Blair was "completely unjustified". The September 2002 dossier accurately reflected the views of the Joint Intelligence Committee at the time.