More from: Issues

Helm’s isn’t the whole story


by Piers Robinson

Is Sarah Helm’s revelation in the Guardian and previously her play misleading?

The revelation  from the wife of Jonathan Powell, Blair’s advisor, paints a picture of Blair wanting to defy Bush, but ultimately not having the guts to stand up to him.

But the issue being discussed in the article is whether or not Blair could persuade Bush to wait for a 2nd Resolution, not whether Blair could persuade Bush not to go to war.

As such the piece seems to give a misleading impression that Blair was at least trying to defy Bush when, in fact, much of the evidence shows Blair was already set on to support regime change and war (see e.g.…/Blair-to-Powell-17March2002…).

Blair’s unbelievable arrogance

by Chris Ames

When Tony Blair was in power, he had people like Alastair Campbell in No 10 and people like the Guardian’s Patrick Wintour to spin for him. It’s no surprise that he turns to Wintour now to help spin his defence.

When Wintour claims in the Guardian that:

Tony Blair is expected to defend his decision to join in the invasion of Iraq by asking his critics to think through the consequences for stability in the Middle East had Saddam Hussein been left in power, capable of developing weapons of mass destruction.

In the wake of the publication of the Chilcot inquiry report, friends of the former prime minister believe he will argue that the ultimate cause of the long-term bloodshed in Iraq was the scale of external intervention in the country by Iran and al-Qaida rather than failures in post-conflict planning.

neither of them are fooling any of us. It is Blair who is spinning.

In inviting us to look at the consequences of leaving Saddam in power, he conveniently forgets that he said:

I detest his regime – but even now he could save it by complying with the UN’s demands.

Astonishingly, Blair also seems to want to tell us what lessons we should be learning.

What I think is a shame is that the Inquiry didn’t ask Blair along a couple of times to make his case ad nauseam and perhaps send him its findings in advance to he could argue with them.


The Shabby Fix

by Chris Ames

The Inquiry says that:

Sir John Chilcot and the Prime Minister have agreed that the Iraq Inquiry’s report will be published on Wednesday 6 July 2016.

The date was confirmed in correspondence between Sir John and the Prime Minister and follows completion of the report and the national security checking process.

So over two months to typeset a report that hasn’t changed, conveniently taking publication past the EU referendum.

It looks like the shabby fix after all.



Heywood row strengthens my Iraq Inquiry FOI case

by Chris Lamb

Last week it was reported that Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood had introduced new guidance for civil servants to withhold official papers appertaining to the EU from government ministers supporting the campaign for the UK to exit from the European Union.

This intervention has now blown up into a full scale row with the Cabinet Secretary being accused of conspiring with Prime Minister, David Cameron, in a ‘constitutional coup’ to undermine the authority of ministers backing Brexit.

This row over civil service impartiality under Heywood’s regime lends a considerable boost to the demand that any role which Heywood played, currently obscured in secrecy, in the setting up of the Iraq Inquiry should be made transparent and opened to accountability. It strengthens the objective of my freedom of information request for the Downing Street official advice to Gordon Brown on the selection of the Chilcot panel and the setting of the Inquiry’s remit to be disclosed.

Heywood has been summoned to appear before the House of Commons Public Administration Committee to explain his actions. According to reports in the Sunday Times, the committee chairman Bernard Jenkin- who supports exiting the EU- stated that the committee

will be raising concerns about civil service impartiality and the ability of ministers to carry on the business of government and the accountability of departments to government.

He continued that ‘the rules (introduced by Heywood) have ‘left ministers blindsided by their own departments’ and that;

This cannot be right and we want an explanation. It is vital that the impartiality of the civil service is not compromised or that there is any suspicion that that the prime minister is pressurizing the civil service.

The Sunday Times reports that Heywood’s guidance to ban official papers from Brexit ministers has a wider impact than originally thought. It was supposed to apply to documents directly related to the forthcoming referendum, but civil servants are apparently also stopping ministers from seeing correspondence addressed to them if it mentions the EU at all. Officials in the departments with senior ministers supporting Brexit have been ordered to send government statistics bolstering the case for staying in the EU direct to the Cabinet Office without getting them signed off by the Secretaries of State concerned. This is potentially in breach of ministerial legal responsibility for their departments.

The six Cabinet ministers backing Brexit are, according to the Sunday Times report, set to demand from Sir Jeremy Heywood a written clarification of his guidance complaining that the ban on them seeing official papers has ‘paralyzed’ the government.

David Davis, the prominent Conservative backbench MP and government critic, has accused the government, through this guidance, of ‘trying to rig the system in its favour’ and describes the impact of the ban as ‘a constitutional offence’ and ‘abuse of power’. The Sunday Times quotes a civil servant source stating that ‘it is outrageous that Jeremy Heywood is willing to threaten the impartiality of the civil service like this’.



The FAC also want answers?

by Andrew Mason

From the Guardian ticker-tape:

Breaking news: Sir John Chilcot, chairman of Iraq war inquiry, to be summoned before the Commons foreign affairs committee to explain delay to report. More details soon…

Now updated:

Chilcot is to be summoned before MPs at Westminster to explain the delay to the publication, which has been denounced by senior politicians as “incomprehensible”.

Sir Richard Ottaway, chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, said there could be “no justification whatsoever” for the process dragging on as long as it has..

Ottoway said he had called Chilcot before the committee to “give him an opportunity to explain what stage of preparation of the report had reached and what obstacles remain before he can submit the report”. He has suggested that Chilcot appear before the committee within the next two weeks.

Hague hopes for report before the election

by Chris Ames

The BBC reports that

William Hague has said he “hopes” the Iraq Inquiry report will be published before the 2015 general election.

Hague was speaking as leader of the House of Commons  and reminded people that as shadow foreign secretary he led debates calling for an Iraq inquiry, which the Labour government resisted for as long as it could. Hague pointed out that it would all be over by now without the delay setting it up.

More on Tony Blair’s ‘untruths’

by Andrew Mason

In a letter to the Observer published yesterday, John Morrison wrote:

You quoted Tony Blair last week as saying: “What we now know from Syria is that Assad, without any detection from the west, was manufacturing chemical weapons. We only discovered this when he used them.” He (Blair) adds: “We also know, from the final weapons inspectors’ reports, that though it is true that Saddam got rid of the physical weapons, he retained the expertise and capability to manufacture them.”

As well as being DCDI from 1994 to 1999, Morrison had been head of the intelligence analytical staff and the secretary to the JIC. He was also the founder and head of the ‘Rockingham cell’, a small intelligence unit set up within DIS which coordinated with UNSCOM personnel, Dr David Kelly and quite likely Charles Duelfer amongst them. After leaving the civil service in 1999, Morrison became the ISC’s first formal ‘investigator’. His contract was ended in 2004 after he told the BBC’s Panorama programme that he “could almost hear the collective raspberry going up around Whitehall”, after Blair had asserted that the threat from Iraq’s WMD was “current and serious”.

As holder of these various positions within the intelligence community, Morrison would have been well aware of the Iraqi ‘Air Force document’. This had a fairly long history, going back to July 1998, when it had been initially discovered during an UNSCOM inspection of the operations room at the Iraqi Air Force headquarters building in Baghdad.


Ye ancient ghoste of impeachment

by Andrew Mason

Quite possibly, the Father of the House, Sir Peter Tapsell, read Simon Heffer’s Daily Mail piece published yesterday. Today, Sir Peter raised the same issue at Prime Minister’s questions in the House of Commons.

The process for impeachment of a high official (be they a peer or a commoner) has long been a statutory tool. First used in the Parliament of England in 1376 against William Latimer, 4th Baron Latimer, for the long string of crimes, this legal remedy fell out of use beyond the unsuccessful trial of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, the first Secretary of State for War, in 1806. According to the book ‘Royal Dukes’ by Roger Fulford (1933), it was said that Dundas was “so profoundly ignorant of war that he was not even conscious of his own ignorance.” One further attempt at impeachment was made in 1848, when Lord Palmerston was accused of having signed a secret treaty with Imperial Russia and of receiving monies from the Tsar.

However, Palmerston survived a vote in the House of Commons and the Lords did not hear the case.

In recent times (1967 and 1999) the question of the obsolescence of the impeachment procedure has been discussed. Despite this, in 2004 Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price attempted to move for the impeachment of Tony Blair for his role in involving Britain in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

At this time, Price consulted with the then Leader of the House of Commons, Peter Hain, as to whether the power to impeach was still available. Hain informed him that, based on the 1999 Joint Committee’s report, and with the advice of the Clerk of the House of Commons, that impeachment “effectively died with the advent of full responsible Parliamentary government.”

This situation arises because it is normally in the House of Lords that the case would be heard. The procedure used to be that the Lord Chancellor presided (or the Lord High Steward if the defendant was a peer) – but this was when the Lord Chancellor was both the Lords’ presiding officer and head of the judiciary of England and Wales.

Since both these roles were removed from that office by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which created the Lord Speaker to preside over the Lords and made the Lord Chief Justice head of the judiciary, it is not certain who would preside over an impeachment trial today.

If Parliament was not in session, then the trial could be conducted by a “Court of the Lord High Steward” instead of the House of Lords (even if the defendant was not a peer).

(The technical and legal differences between this court and the House of Lords are that in the House all of the peers are judges of both law and fact, whereas in the Court the Lord High Steward is the sole judge of law and the peers decide the facts only – this bearing in mind that the bishops are not entitled to sit and vote in the Court.)

Whilst no legislation has been produced to abolish the remedy of impeachment, and it is argued by some that it remains as part of British constitutional law, it would appear that other (quite likely considerably time-consuming) legislation would be required to bring this power into the modern age. In particular this could possibly require the re-establishment of a formal “Court of the Lord High Steward”; also the election of a suitable Lord High Steward in person. Alternately, a new mechanism in the House of Lords would have to be established whereby more than one judge could oversee the proceeding, namely the Lord Speaker and the Lord Chief Justice plus necessarily one other high-ranking Lord in order to form a decisive quorum.

Primary references:,_4th_Baron_Latimer,_1st_Viscount_Melville

Goodbye to Iraq as we know it?

By Andrew Mason

iraq map

At very rare times such as this, it is practically impossible to keep up with the Google news feed when using the search term ‘Iraq’. As I write, six full pages of results have been generated in just the last ten minutes or so.

President Obama has stated that: “We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq” and former Secretary of State and potential 2016 presidential election nominee Hillary Clinton has said that: “…the United States should not provide military assistance – particularly airstrikes – to the Iraqi government “at this time” in response to the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and other militants.”

There are rumours that Iran has deployed three battalions of its ‘Qods Force’, which are part of the Iranian Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (otherwise known as ‘Revolutionary Guards’), into Iraq, and other reports that Kurdish pershmerga forces have moving to militarily secure and protect the regional multi-ethnic Northern capital of Kirkuk.

The ‘blame game’ has begun in earnest, with the word ‘legacy’ being frequently repeated in relation to Messrs Blair and Bush. In the US, partisan attacks by Republican senators and representatives accuse Obama of pulling out of Iraq too quickly, and of failing to negotiate and secure a ‘status of forces’ agreement, whereby US forces might have remained in Iraq.

In all likelihood, we are now witnessing the first stages of the disintegration of the Republic of Iraq as a homogeneous (although already long-fractured) nation state.