Former foreign secretary Jack Straw has described how, just days before the invasion of Iraq, he advised Tony Blair that they need not necessarily send in British troops with the Americans.
Mr Straw told the Iraq Inquiry he had suggested that the UK could instead provide “facilitation” for the US offensive, and then deploy British forces to help deal with the aftermath.
His appearance marked the inquiry’s final public hearing, 15 months after they began.
Winding up the proceedings the chairman, Sir John Chilcot, said completing their final report was a “significant task” which would take “some months”.
Mr Straw confirmed that he had met Mr Blair on March 12 2003, eight days before the invasion, to discuss the situation.
No official record was kept of the meeting, but Mr Straw said he had made clear to Mr Blair that he still had options other than committing to the invasion.
“I think to say I was advocating not committing British troops to military action is probably putting it too strongly,” he told the inquiry.
“We could have provided facilitation and then go in afterwards. That was the most plausible alternative which would not have meant standing down all the troops we had in theatre and was essentially what the Spanish and Italians did.”
In the end he “thoroughly” endorsed the decision to invade, but added: “I don’t think anybody was keen on military action – it’s horrible and people are going to get killed. I was anxious that we should explore all possible alternatives.
“I also felt that as I owed the prime minister my loyalty, I also owed him the best and most robust advice I could give him.”