Boris trumps Dave with call for report to be published

by Chris Ames

For the past couple of weeks we’ve had leading politicians calling for the Inquiry report to be published but no consensus as to whose fault it is that the process has stalled. Tony Blair has been accused of being the block and has denied it but the real debate seems to be whether it is the Cabinet Office for failing to allow the publication of key evidence or the Inquiry for refusing to blink first.

So when you get first David Cameron and then Boris Johnson saying they should just get on with it, it isn’t clear who they think should budge. According to the Mail on Sunday:

‘The PM believes there is no excuse for any further lengthy delay in publishing Chilcot,’ said a No 10 aide.

‘It would be unreasonable to postpone it beyond the next Election.’

It’s good news if Camerson is not going to have publication delayed further because of the election, but is this implicit criticism of the Inquiry? Cameron knows very well that John believes he can only publish with the key evidence, so is he saying he should give in? If Cameron wants the report published, why doesn’t he tell the Cabinet Office to stop being obstructive?

On LBC’s Ask Boris this morning, Boris Johnson said he “passionately” agreed that the report should be published and that if he had it, he would publish it. But that supposes that there is a settled entity that can be published, whereas the reality is that there is no agreement about what can be published.

In the Telegraph, Dan Hodges also seems to think it’s a case of publish and be damned. I don’t think he really understands the issue either.

At each stage, Mr Cameron’s frustration at these continuing delays has becoming increasingly evident. His response to the first letter carried his “hope that it will be possible to meet this new timetable”. His second expressed a desire to see the report completed “as quickly as possible”. The third pointedly said: “I appreciate that consideration of the disclosure requests for the remaining sensitive categories of information must be handled sensitively, but I hope consideration of the final set of papers can be concluded as soon as possible.”

Unfortunately, Sir John failed to take the hint. And as a result, Downing Street is not prepared to entertain additional entreaties about how the dog has eaten his homework.

If this is pointed criticism of anyone, it is criticism of the people who are considering the disclosure requests, ie the Cabinet Office.

After all the blaming and buck passing, are we any further forward? I don’t think so. I think it would help a lot if those people who say they should just get on with it said who they think should give way.


18 comments to this article

  1. Peter Beswick

    on May 7, 2014 at 12:05 am -

    I’m not sure if Cameron’s criticism is directed at the Cabinet Office, no.10 deliberately used the word “excuse”.

    Chilcot has made it clear to Cameron his “reason “ for feeling unable to progress to the next stage that when hopefully achieved will then eventually permit publication; if it’s Chilcot that Cameron has in his sights then the no. 10 aide has done a pretty good job of embarrassing Chilcot publicly.

    If it is Heywood who Cameron blames for the excuse then I find it difficult he would communicate his frustration via the tabloids rather than call the civil servant into his office and explain to him what is expected of him.

    I don’t believe that Cameron believes the reason given for the impasse is an excuse, I do believe that Cameron is quite happy for the pantomime to run into the Christmas season and beyond but his deafening silence on the matter, thus far, has got people wondering, again, about his leadership qualities and therefore he was most probably encouraged by his helpers, who are quite likely getting a thrill from the stand-off, to say something banal, non-committal yet arguably statesmanlike (if you admire statesmen that blame both or neither side involved in a conflict, that they have no personal interest in, thereby not offending one side above another yet masking their complete detachment as genuine interest and determination in assisting the forging of a solution).

  2. John Bone

    on May 7, 2014 at 9:19 am -

    As I said yesterday, it seems like an attempt by Cameron to distance himself from the delays and to point the finger at Chilcot himself. Hodges has simply taken what Cameron’s aide has told him and written it own without thinking it through; this is the stenographer model of journalism that was so common in the run-up to the invasion itself and is a problem in its own right.

  3. andrewsimon

    on May 7, 2014 at 3:12 pm -

    Hodges has simply taken what Cameron’s aide has told him and written it [d]own without thinking it through; this is the stenographer model of journalism…

    No – I don’t think this explanation gives sufficient weight to Dan Hodges’ evident position. He variously writes in the piece:

    “Not because we need to know “the truth” about Iraq; we know that already.”

    “Similarly, it is not necessary for Chilcot to point a finger at the Iraq scandal’s guilty men. Or man.”

    “Indeed, many in Whitehall believe it is this battle over Blair’s legacy that represents the final obstacle to the publication of Chilcot. They think Blair is using the Maxwellisation process to play for time, and water down the draft criticism of his actions, and that Chilcot himself is naively falling for the tactic.”

    “The British people don’t need to learn again what happened in Iraq. What they need is the sight of an austere-looking man, in a rather dull suit, walking up to a lectern, holding aloft a large, imposing document, and announcing, “What happened in Iraq was wrong. In here it tells you why.”

    “That’s the way to get closure. The only way to get closure. “Iraq was wrong: Official.”

    What he seems to be arguing for is a simplification of the Inquiry’s final findings. The Maxwellisation process itself is not likely to be just about dotting a few I’s and crossing a couple of T’s – and it won’t just focus on what Blair and Bush said to each other either.

    What is fairly evident now is that the process of declassification has gone beyond being simply ‘stalled’. Given the amount of time that these matters have been under discussion, I would suggest that there must now be complete deadlock. My take on this, mainly informed by the outcome of Stephen Plowden’s January 2014 First-tier Tribunal “paper re-hearing” relating to appeals launched by both himself and the FCO with regard to B/B conversations concerning the position of France in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, is that s.27 and s.35(1)(b) qualified exemptions relating to International relations and Ministerial Communications currently remain sacrosanct, and cannot (as yet?) be trumped by the s.2 public interest test.

    Part of the tribunal finding states that:

    …we bear in mind that the disputed information when supplied to the Inquiry was subject to the protocol agreed with the Government and “classified” (as it remained in July 2010 and, for the moment at least, still remains) and that there is an important distinction between the publication of an official record of a specific conversation and more general oral references to it.

    It ends by stating that:

    We have stressed throughout this decision and repeat again that it relates back to the situation as it stood in July 2010. Obviously the public interest balance can change over time. Since July 2010, over three years have passed, Alistair Campbell’s diaries have been published, and American troops have left Iraq; eventually decisions will be made on “declassification” and the Iraq Inquiry report will be published; all these are matters which may impinge one way or another on that public interest balance in the future should another similar request be made.

    Reading between the lines here, it would appear that a decision against disclosure has been taken jointly by the FCO and the Cabinet Office, and this is now a deeply entrenched position. The immediate problem is that no-one is willing to openly admit to the existence of this now unfolded scenario.

    My guess is that it will fall to SJC to explain this in his next (now annual) exchange of July letters. If the impasse remains as it currently exists, he will be forced to choose between publishing an incomplete report (under pressure from DC, BJ and others – maybe even TB himself) or postponing publication indefinitely.

    In any case, only after the resolution of the first of these propositions will the matter of ‘public interest’ ever be capable of being properly revisited.

  4. Peter Beswick

    on May 7, 2014 at 3:32 pm -

    Twiggy Garcia musings on the possibility of a criminal prosecution involving Blair

    I just wonder what the chances are of a civil action being brought against Blair et al, possibly a class action.

    Whatever, Blair is very aware, as Cameron and anyone else hoping to move into no.10 next year that the legal loose ends of Iraq, at some stage, have to be dealt with. Cameron’s desire for it not to be on his watch seems to have been realised.
    Clearly since Dominic Grieve misled parliament over Dr David Kelly he is no longer a candidate to champion a Just outcome but then I look at labour, the libdems and the Farage mob and think what possibility have they got of fielding an Attorney General who could be trusted?
    None! I determined, even our dishonest, right honourable present incumbent who has set the bar as low as it can go must be smiling to himself that this is set to become someone else’s problem.

  5. John Bone

    on May 8, 2014 at 12:09 pm -

    Dan Hodges has accepted that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake (which is new, I think). He seems to be quite keen for the Chilcot report to come out but he also seem keen for it to be quickly forgotten. He is looking for “closure” which usually means, in the world of politics, accepting that mistakes were made but then “moving on” quickly before anyone has the time to think carefully about why they were made. He wants someone to say that it is officially accepted that the invasion was a mistake but, apparently, that is all he wants. The suggestion is that he isn’t interested in the implications of that conclusion nor in the “lessons learnt”.

    Hodges says:-

    “Indeed, many in Whitehall believe it is this battle over Blair’s legacy that represents the final obstacle to the publication of Chilcot. They think Blair is using the Maxwellisation process to play for time, and water down the draft criticism of his actions, and that Chilcot himself is naively falling for the tactic.”

    This is a very weird paragraph, with a number of non-sequiturs. As far as we know Maxwellisation hasn’t begun, so it is unclear how Blair can be using it to play for time. Has Hodges just got it wrong or is he suggesting that this is what Blair will do? And what should we make of the suggestion that Chilcot is being “naïve” and “falling for this tactic”? Is there a suggestion that we will get the report quicker if people stop trying to used it to besmirch Blair’s legacy?

    People like Hodges and Cameron and Johnson seem to be re-positioning themselves, either for what is in the report or for an outcry about its non-publication. Hodges is spinning for Cameron and himself. I am a bit disturbed by the apparent criticisms of Chilcot himself, and I am reminded of the moment when Cameron started allowing his Ministers to criticise Levenson (even though Cameron has promised to implement the recommendations).

  6. Anthony Miller

    on May 9, 2014 at 11:03 am -

    “In the Telegraph, Dan Hodges also seems to think it’s a case of publish and be damned. I don’t think he really understands the issue either.”

    I think he does understand the issue but it’s easier to lay the blame at the feet of Sir John than to confront the deeper issues about the confrontation between Sir John and the Cabinet Office and the Cabinet Secretary. It is at the end of the line the Government not the Inquiry who is blocking declassification. The government clearly want to get the report out before the general election and Labour want it out the way before the election too I think … so there will be much hand wringing. I love the idea in Hodges piece that there is an “anti Blair industry”. Who’s that then … you lot, Stop the War, Galloway, Monbiot and me? If there is an industry it’s a very small pre-industrial revolution cottage industry.

  7. Peter Beswick

    on May 9, 2014 at 12:26 pm -

    A.M. – Not sure about an “anti Blair industry” but his PR crew have had their hands full recently, without any sign of positive mitigation forthcoming but the nature of the recent “bad” press, I think, only serves to contain Blair, not condemn him…….. at the moment!

    I don’t think the Wendi Deng thing was part of the most recent surge but it did expose the vulnerable side of Blair as witnessed, even longer ago, by comedian Jim Davidson and admirer John “Gaffer” Rollinson.

    Now we have, not in chronological order but all in the last week or so;

    Blair’s £100 million fortune, where did it come from? And where is it based? What does he use it for?
    Chilcot’s sulk now costing the taxpayer £10 million
    Calls for Blair to come clean on what he knew of paedophile(s) in his cabinet, on the back of (as it were), Cyril Smith being protected by Mi5
    Abu Hamza turns out to be a Mi5 asset
    Gerry Adams’ arrest and Irish terrorists given “get out of jail free” letters
    The Office of Tony Blair – Keynote Speech at Bloomberg London HQ that confounded even Mr Rentoul.
    Bomb Syria at a more suitable time
    Royal Society Portrait unveiled set against a Northern Ireland “no surrender” mural with a Union Jack (minus the flag of St George) radiating from the standing sitter’s head.

    Not so much an industry but reminiscent of Luddite disquiet.

  8. Anthony Miller

    on May 10, 2014 at 9:36 pm -

    One thought. Everyone seems to think of the resistance to watering down/ publishing the inquiry’s report/ conclusions as coming from Sir John but there are actually 5 individuals on the inquiry panel. Maybe it’s not who we think who wont sign off on a fudge?

  9. andrewsimon

    on May 10, 2014 at 11:51 pm -

    …but there are actually 5 individuals on the inquiry panel.

    In early 2012 Sir Martin Gilbert became ill and has not since been able to contribute to the Inquiry’s deliberations.

  10. chris lamb

    on May 11, 2014 at 9:10 am -

    With reference to ‘Sir Jeremy to explain himself’ (there is a problem with the ‘Write a comment’ box on that posting), the Mail-Online carried a lead story last December that the Cabinet Office had confirmed that the Bush-Blair correspondence would be largely declassified within a period of approximately 3 months. That would bring it forward to March 2014. Evidently the schedule is running a little late;

    The most salient parts of these communications have already been published in Alastair Campbell’s most recent diaries.

    For me, of equal, if not greater interest, are the hundreds of documents relating to the treatment of discussions in Cabinet and Cabinet Committees. This raises the issue of dirty laundry at senior levels of government which the Chilcot Report- (if Sir John has his way in declassifying all this material)- may wash in public.

    The salient dirty laundry in this instance belongs to the Senior Civil Service and not least (potentially) to the Cabinet Office and its Secretariats themselves.

    I refer back to an FCO Historians Seminar publication- ‘Decision Making in Foreign Policy: Six Moments of Crisis’ (21 February 2013- FCO/ Oxford University Press)- where former Cabinet Secretary, Sir Robin Butler, stated that, in the run up to the Iraq invasion, the Cabinet was deliberately not kept as well informed as the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary so that these ‘three main protagonists’ could dominate proceedings and achieve the outcome they wanted.

    ‘A lot of very good official papers were prepared. None of them were ever circulated to the Cabinet, just as the Attorney General’s advice was not circulated to the Cabinet. So, the Cabinet was not kept as well informed as the three leading protagonists; the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary…I think that was deliberate and it was a weakness of the machinery that underlay that particular decision’.

    The ‘machinery that underlay that particular decision’ must have centered upon the Cabinet Office itself and the Secretariats which serviced Cabinet with ‘official papers’ and advice. Butler is inferring that the ‘machinery’ in fact colluded with the decision to withhold key papers countervailing the positions of the Blair, Straw etc. from Cabinet.

    This is a potentially serious allegation. It also throws into relief the power held by the Cabinet Office and its Secretariats over declassification of sensitive information for the Chilcot Report.

    Butler’s allegation raises a significant conflict of interest for the Cabinet Office. Should it hold such a position of power over the declassification and disclosure of ‘sensitive’ information- as managing agent of the government’s Protocol- if it faces serious questions itself over the role it played in how Cabinet was informed- or not as the case may be- to take the decision about invading Iraq. Indeed, Margaret Aldred, the Iraq Inquiry Secretariat who liaises with the Cabinet Office over ‘declassification’, was head of one of the key Cabinet Secretariats at the time of the Iraq invasion.

    This is not the first time that dirty laundry of the Senior Civil Service has been raised in relation to the Iraq invasion. There is also the question of willing collusion of hand-picked senior civil servants in the ‘sofa government’ machinery which produced research papers in the run up to the September 2002 Iraq WMD dossier. They worked under the authority of Alastair Campbell who had been granted powers to direct civil servants under a special ‘Order of Council’- although he claimed never to have used these powers in relation to this dossier.

    The Senior Civil Service are masters at the wily covert politics of concealment. There can be no doubt that if their dirty laundry has to be aired they would much prefer it to be behind the closed doors of a Ministerial meeting rather than in a public report.

  11. John Bone

    on May 11, 2014 at 9:22 am -

    I’ve always considered the word “Chilcot” to be a collective noun encompassing the whole team, and they’re not a bunch of lightweights. Gilbert has been kicking around the corridors of power since the days of Wilson and Freedman has been there since the days of Thatcher. That’s why it is remarkable that Cameron is quoted as saying that he is frustrated with Chilcot because he is tangling with some war-studies heavy-weights.

    Presumably it had been hoped that people like Freedman (who supported the invasion and wrote newspaper articles about strategic choices for carrying it out) would come up with strategies that would have made the invasion a success. Is he still coming at it from that angle?

  12. chris lamb

    on May 11, 2014 at 9:31 am -

    Apologies, Margaret Aldred became Deputy Head of the Foreign and Defence Policy Secretariat in 2004- during the occupation of Iraq. She had an earlier substantial career with the MoD. I would still suggest this raises a significant doubt about her fitness to play such a role in terms of impartiality and independence from the Cabinet Office culture.

    It should not be forgotten that Ms. Aldred was hand-picked by the former Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, without the post of Iraq Inquiry Secretary being put out to external competition. This was no doubt to ensure that the role of Secretary was placed in ‘safe hands’ from the Cabinet Office’s perspective. The Iraq Inquiry Secretariat itself is made up largely of senior civil servants seconded from Government departments intimately involved in the Iraq invasion decision.

  13. Anthony Miller

    on May 11, 2014 at 9:51 am -

    I did know Sir Martin Gilbert is ill and no longer actively contributing but presumably be still has to sign off on the final prodict?