More from: Process

Situation normal – shambles

by Chris Ames

The “independent” Inquiry seems to have negotiated another public relations shambles, having suggested that the families of dead servicemen wold have to pay £767 for a copy of the report, albeit that they would get a free copy of the executive summary, otherwise £30.

It’s not clear whether it was the Inquiry that had made this call, independent of the government as it nominally is, or the Cabinet Office. But the situation was soon resolved:

Number 10 said: “There is no question of families of service personnel who died in Iraq having to pay for copies of the Chilcot report.”

Move along, nothing to see.


Tortuous printing process to delay Inquiry report

by Chris Ames

According to the Sunday Telegraph, “a team of national security officials has been prepared to go to the offices of the inquiry next week to start the national security vetting process”.

This is as expected but the paper also suggests that the report will be delayed not because of the European Referendum as claimed previously, but because the Inquiry needs even more time. It says John Penrose, the minister in charge of the Government’s response to the report,

said the process would take just two weeks to complete, however the Government had agreed with Sir John Chilcot, the inquiry’s chairman that the report would not be published until June or July.

He said: “Nobody wants this to take any longer than it has already. The process of checking by security officials will take no more than two weeks to complete.

“Sir John can then complete the process of preparing his report for publication on the timetable set out in his letter to the Prime Minister last October. We look forward to seeing the final report then.”

Last October, Sir John did indeed say:

“The very considerable size of our report – more than two million words in total – means that it will take some weeks to prepare for printing and publication … We will complete that work as swiftly as possible.  I consider that once National Security checking has been completed it should be possible to agree with you a date for publication in June or July 2016.”

I understand local printer Mr William Caxton is on standby.

Chilcot has less freedom than arms to Iraq inquiry, Lord Scott says

by Chris Ames

My colleague Richard Norton-Taylor has written an interesting piece for the Guardian:

The long-awaited inquiry by Sir John Chilcot into the British invasion of Iraq in 2003 has infinitely less freedom than the inquiry into how Britain secretly helped to arm Saddam Hussein decades earlier, the Guardian has been told.

Speaking before the 20th anniversary of the release of his arms to Iraq report, Lord Scott said he had been given complete freedom to publish what he wanted.

Scott, now a retired law lord, told the Guardian that he had “huge freedom” over what information relating to his inquiry, which opened in 1992, could be disclosed. “I had the final decision on publication,” he said.

In contrast, the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, will have the final say on what is published in the inquiry report on the invasion of Iraq.

Norton-Taylor points out that:

Scott withheld only a few pages – passages dealing with current MI6 activities – of a report that provided great encouragement to those campaigning for more open government, eventually leading to the 2000 Freedom of Information Act.

He told the Guardian that the advantage of a judge leading an inquiry was that they were accustomed to making decisions based on evidence. “The only person who can decide is the judge”, Scott said.

Of course, the Cabinet Office doesn’t want us to know why the Labour Government chose to set up the Iraq inquiry in the format that it chose, with such limited powers that it has to get the permission of officials to publish anything.

Families demand announcement on publication within one month

by Chris Ames

The Daily Mail (and others) report that:

Bereaved families of British soldiers killed in Iraq will today give Sir John Chilcot a final ultimatum to publish his long-delayed report.

Now that all those criticised in the document have responded, the Iraq inquiry chairman has no excuse not to fix a date for its release, they say.

And they have demanded he announce this date within a month.

The hardest hitting part of the families “open letter” to Chilcot is the allegation that he has treated them “with contempt” while favouring Maxwellees:

While the Maxwellees – those individuals allegedly who deployed our loved ones to fight in a controversial war, whose misconduct sent them into battle ill-equipped and, thereby, to their deaths … have been given every attention and possible courtesy, we have been sidelined and ignored. While they were given every chance to stall publication, you have fought us at every turn – when all we have done is urged you to tackle the delay.

While they were given the assistance of taxpayer-funded government lawyers, you threatened us with costs for even daring to challenge you.

You claim that your inquiry is open and fair – maybe to the Maxwellees, but not to us … It is with regret that we must tell you that such hypocrisy is astonishing.

We do not intend to go away … in the absence of any reasonable, transparent and full explanation why you cannot, we expect you to write to the Prime Minister within one month with a date for publication, which should be by the end of the year.

By your own admission, now Maxwellisation is over, there is nothing to prevent you doing this. If you fail to do so, we will continue with our legal challenge.’

The letter has been sent not as part of the threatened legal action, but as a pause before possibly resuming it. Presumably, Chilcot’s statement that he needs to assess Maxwellisation responses before setting out a timetable means that the families have to give him time both to do that and to publish. In neither case have they actually set an ultimatum.


Maxwellisation responses in – no timetable for a while yet

by Chris Ames

The Foreign Affairs Committee has published a further letter from Sir John Chilcot to its chairman Crispin Blunt. In the letter, Chilcot confirms that the Inquiry has now received “the last Maxwell responses” but says that:

There is, inevitably, further work for my colleagues and I to do to evaluate those submissions, which are detailed and substantial, in order to establish with confidence the time needed to complete the Inquiry’s remaining work. As soon as I am able to I shall write to the Prime Minister with a timetable for publication of the Inquiry’s report.

So the ball is now back in Chilcot’s court and he is signalling that it will be a while before he can play it. He has again broken down what needs to be done to complete the report into two stages: 1) work out what needs to be done; 2) do it. He doesn’t know how long either stage will take so we should not hold our breath.

In the meantime, the justification for not releasing the evidence gets thinner and thinner.

The FAC has also published an earlier exchange of letters in which Blunt asked Chilcot to confirm that the Inquiry was getting all the help it needed from the government and that extra government resources would not speed things up and Chilcot’s reply, in which he confirmed the former, although the latter would appear to follow. Chilcot also confirmed that when he writes to David Cameron with the elusive timetable, he will publish that letter “once it has been sent”.


Nobody expects this to come out this year

by Chris Ames

Last night on Newsnight, the BBC’s Mark Urban reported a source “closely involved… in the deliberations of the Chilcot Inquiry” as saying “Nobody expects this to come out this year”. Urban said that someone “similarly involved in this process” had confirmed this to him.

Urban said that the new delay was because the “Maxwellisation process” had become so complex that the Inquiry had given up setting a deadline for people to respond to potential criticism. People would say “why don’t you look at these 30 emails”.

My worst fear is that people like Blair and Straw, and of course their lawyers, will once again bluff and bluster and obfuscate to the point where the Inquiry loses the plot and waters down its criticism. If it does, it must surely be the end of the establishment Inquiry.

The BBC website reports the story here. Urban’s story is also on the site.

Today’s debate

by Chris Ames

During this afternoon’s debate, Respect MP George Galloway slammed MPs for, amongst other things, a very poor attendance. In particular, he said, only 7 Labour MPs were present.

Here’s a shot of Tory MP Dominic Grieve being interrupted by colleague Bernard Jenkin. In the background Rory Stewart is playing with his phone paying close attention.



Inquiry delay to be debated in London and Edinburgh today

by Chris Ames

In addition to the well-publicised debate in the House of Commons this morning, the Scottish Parliament will be discussing the Inquiry this afternoon.

According to the UK Parliament website:

The debate will take place in the House of Commons Chamber on Thursday 29 January 2015 and will begin from around 11.15am – 11.30am. Any timings are approximate and Parliamentary business may be subject to change, for example if any Urgent Questions or Ministerial Statements are granted on the day.

The motion to be debated is:

“That this House regrets that the Iraq Inquiry has decided to defer publication of its report until after 7 May 2015; and calls on the Inquiry to publish a timetable for publication and an explanation of the causes of the delay by 12 February 2015.”

You can watch the debate here.

Interestingly, the Scottish debate will still focus on calls for the report to be published before the election. The motion in the name of first minister Nicola Sturgeon is:

That the Parliament calls for Sir John Chilcot‘s official inquiry into the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent war to publish its findings and all evidence ahead of the UK general election; acknowledges that the Iraq war resulted in the deaths of 179 UK service personnel and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians; notes that the cost to taxpayers of the war is estimated at £9.6 billion, and believes that, six years after the inquiry was established and three years after hearings concluded, it is in the interests of transparency, accountability and democracy that the report is published as soon as possible and that any further delay in publication is completely unjustifiable.

According to the Herald Scotland website:

The First Minister is expected to receive cross-party backing from the Greens, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in arguing that the findings of the inquiry, which began in 2009, should be published ahead of May’s General Election. Labour will also back the Scottish Government’s motion.

That debate should begin some time after 2pm and you can watch it online on the Scottish Parliament t.v. channel.

What’s the story?

by Richard Heller

There was an interesting development at yesterday’s session of the Commons public administration committee, which grilled Sir Jeremy Heywood on the delays to the Inquiry report. I had previously put to the committee my Yorkshire Post article, suggesting that Parliament subpoena the report as it stands and publish it in time for the election. Labour MP Paul Flynn put this to Sir Jeremy,  who said that this would be a matter for Parliament but suggested that it would be preferable for everyone to wait until the complete report was published, as Chilcot and his team intended. (That of course would mean, after they have agreed to any watering down of their conclusions in response to the Maxwellees.)

However, I had also put an alternative proposal to the committee. Chilcot could publish a “narrative verdict” on the Iraq war, as an interim report by the end of February, that is to say a full account of all the key decisions and events in the relevant period, citing all the sources they had used as far as they were allowed. This report would not pass judgment on any individual. The British people could then draw their own conclusions. Of course, all the political parties and the media could try to exploit this narrative verdict during the election campaign, but at least they would all be using a common, authoritative source and those who obviously misused it could be quickly exposed. The Inquiry would complete the Maxwellisation process and submit its final report, with its judgments on individuals, to the new Parliament after the election.

This idea was put to Sir Jeremy by Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland and it seemed to cause him some discomfort. He suggested that Chilcot and his team might find it impossible to “disentangle” their judgments from the factual passages in their report. I disagree – assuming that he and his team have done their job properly, and based their judgments on the full evidence that they have studied and presented. Their report is written: they have identified the critical passages and put them into Maxwell letters. All they need to do is remove those critical passages from the report and publish all the rest. (The excisions might conceivably create some discontinuities or non-sequiturs in the report, but these should be easy to remedy). I suggested to the committee that preparing this “narrative verdict” would not be too onerous a task for Chilcot and his team – who currently have nothing to do but wait for Maxwellisation responses. They could be given additional temporary staff. As Mulholland pointed out, this proposal circumvents all the delays created by the Maxwellisation process, whether these are reasonable or deliberately obstructive.

I believe that such a narrative verdict could be a valuable resource for British voters before the election. It could go some way to meeting the feelings of the victims of the Iraq war, who have waited so long for Chilcot.

The video of the session is here.