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.
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”.
by Andrew Mason
The Iraq Inquiry has today published new correspondence between the Inquiry chair and the Prime Minister. The outcome of this latest round of ‘official reporting’ would appear to be that David Cameron has instructed asked the cabinet secretary to meet with Sir John Chilcot as a matter of some urgency.
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.
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.
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.
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.
by Chris Ames
The Telegraph reports that:
Nick Clegg has promised more resources for the Iraq War inquiry team to ensure that the final report is published “in the quickest way possible”.
The Deputy Prime Minister was speaking out after The Daily Telegraph disclosed that the final report by Sir John Chilcot, which will run to over one million words, might not now be published until next year.
Mr Clegg said the Government would step in with extra funds to help the inquiry’s secretariat process replies from senior politiicians and officials who are due to be criticised in the report.
This part of the inquiry – officially called the “Maxwellisation process” – started before Christmas and has continued this week with some witnesses only receiving letters in the past few days.
by Chris Ames
Sir John Chilcot’s letter to David Cameron is now on the Inquiry website, along with Cameron’s reply. I’m still not clear why Chilcot’s letter couldn’t have been posted yesterday, when it was sent.
Chilcot’s letter does suggest that he has been rather more than he previously said in getting the government to agree to publication of key exchanges between Tony Blair and George Bush. He says “the Inquiry has reached agreement with Sir Jeremy [Heywood] on the publication of 29 of Mr Blair’s notes to President Bush, subject to a small number of redactions”. He previously accepted that only “gists” of such documents would be published. Either Chilcot is overstating things or he is (eventually) going to disclose more direct evidence than we thought. The number has also increased from 25 notes, perhaps after more were discovered, as Chilcot’s earlier statement suggested.
On the issue of records of conversations, Chilcot says that “Agreement has been reached … consistent with the principles agreed last year”.
Of course the difference between a note and a record of a conversation is that the latter includes what Bush said, which is a much more sensitive issue. There is no fundamental justification for not disclosing what the British prime minister wrote to someone else, unless it contains something that in itself should not be disclosed.
by Chris Ames
The Guardian reports that:
The six-year long British inquiry into the 2003 Iraq invasion and its aftermath will not be published before the general election, prompting an outcry from those demanding that the long overdue reckoning should be put before the voters.
Similarly, the BBC’s Nick Robinson has tweeted that:
Chilcott will confirm tomorrow that the Iraq Inquiry will not report until after the election
Process of giving witnesses time to respond to allegations against them cannot be completed in time to publish Iraq Inquiry pre election