by Chris Ames
The BBC has reported this evening that Nick Clegg has said that it is time to get on with publishing the Inquiry’s findings. Meanwhile, Tony Blair has taken some of Clegg’s comments as an attack on him and has had a go back.
This is what Clegg said, according to the BBC report, at his monthly press conference today:
“I can’t comment on exactly the reasons why, given that there was a lot of toing and froing about what is finally produced in published form in the report, exactly what the hold-up now is.
“This involves a lot of people, it involves a lot of legalities and of course deals with a very, very sensitive issue.
“But I really do hope now that everybody involved, including those who know they will be subject to renewed scrutiny within the Chilcot report, that they will now accept that it is just time to get this report published so that the record can be scrutinised in the most objective way possible.”
Mr Clegg also said: “This was one of the most momentous, in my view one of the most catastrophic decisions in British foreign policy – I would say the most catastrophic decision – since Suez.
“It is quite right that as a country we learn the lessons, we understand the truth and that those who might not like to be subject to further scrutiny subject themselves to the further scrutiny which will be included in the Chilcot report.”
Note that he has suggested twice, while claiming not to know “exactly what the hold-up now is”, that people who might be trying to avoid scrutiny are responsible for said hold-up. This could be a reference to Blair, or it could be a reference to the Cabinet Secretary, Jeremy Heywood. But, according to a further report from the Independent, Blair has gone for the former interpretation:
In an angry response, a spokesman for Mr Blair said: “If Nick Clegg is implying Tony Blair is the reason for the delay that is completely wrong. Tony Blair has as much reason as anyone for wanting the report published.
“Not least because it gives him a chance to defend himself against Nick Clegg’s assertion that removing Saddam Hussein from power was ‘the most catastrophic decision since Suez’, whilst daily the consequences of inaction over Syria become ever more apparent.”
Returning to this morning’s Independent story, which very much looked at the ongoing delay from the point of view of the current Labour leadership, it says that:
Claims that a “compromise agreement” had been reached have proved to be mere optimism.
Or it may have been the Cabinet Office putting a positive spin on it, as it continues to do:
“The Cabinet Office has been in a constructive dialogue with the inquiry team over recent months, with a clear view to meeting their declassification requests.
“This has involved several thousand documents, subject only to ensuring that national security and foreign policy objectives are not compromised as provided for in the protocol agreed at the outset of the inquiry. That process should be concluded shortly.”
A classic use of the word should there, which as we all know, does not mean yes. But the Cabinet Office is partly right, Chilcot did at the outset give it complete control over what he could publish, as I noted at the time:
[the protocol] gives a long list of reasons why publication might be refused, the majority of which have nothing to do with “national security”. As with the Freedom of Information Act, if ministers and officials want to suppress something, they are spoilt for choice. And they have an absolute veto. In the event of a dispute that cannot be resolved, “the inquiry shall not release that information into the public domain.”
There does seem to be a wide gap between the Cabinet Office saying that things are progressing and the Inquiry sources quoted in the Independent as saying that the process remains stalled. Who knows what the truth is?