More from: Process

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.

 

debate


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.


Clegg pledges more cash

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.


Chilcot may have compromised less than we thought

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.

 


Report after election, Guardian and BBC say

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

Standby for Chilcott’s explanation for post-election delay to Iraq inquiry. Will come tomorrow morning I hear


Debate on 29 January

by Chris Ames

The BBC reports that:

 A cross-party group of MPs has secured a Commons debate in which they will push for publication of the long-awaited inquiry into the Iraq war.

The MPs, including former Conservative Attorney General Dominic Grieve, are concerned the report will not be published before May’s election.

The debate, which has been granted by the Backbench Business Committee, will take place on 29 January.

 


Publish within a week

by Chris Ames

The Telegraph reports that:

Ministers must commit to publishing the Chilcot Inquiry report before the election if it is completed in time, the Liberal Democrats have demanded.

Tim Farron, the party’s foreign office spokesman, wrote to Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Secretary, urging the Conservatives to formally agree releasing the report within a week of its completion.

Interestingly, Farron challenged the government to

commit to publishing the report within one week of receipt, even if the report is submitted within the purdah period…

According to the Inquiry website,

The report will be submitted to the Prime Minister at the earliest opportunity.  The Inquiry understands that it will then be published in Parliament.

Which of course cannot happen if parliament is not sitting.


If Brown’s promise had been kept…

by Chris Ames

Listening to Lord Wallace erroneously recalling what the previous government promised about how the report would be published, I was prompted to look up what Gordon Brown actually said. On 15 June 2009, when he first announced what was originally intended to be a behind-closed-doors inquiry, Brown told the House of Commons:

while the inquiry will be done in private, the report will be fully published for people to debate in this House. People will be able to see for themselves what conclusions are drawn by the inquiry. At the same time, as I said to the House earlier, I have asked the inquiry to publish all the information other than the most sensitive military and security information. The House will therefore have a chance to debate a fully comprehensive report that covers eight years and covers all issues in the run-up to, and aftermath of, the conflict.

As I pointed out a few months later, Brown broke this promise of openness when the Cabinet Office and the Inquiry agreed a protocol for the disclosure of information that held back documents far beyond “the most sensitive military and security information”. The Inquiry has apparently been significantly delayed by arguments over the disclosure of papers that, had Brown kept his promise, would have been published without the cabinet secretary having a veto.