Did the current head of MI6 also mislead the Inquiry?

by Chris Ames

During last Thursday’s hearing at the Inquiry, committee member Sir Roderick Lyne came close to calling Sir John Sawers a liar – in the nicest possible way. Sawers, former foreign policy adviser to Tony Blair and currently head of MI6, is back before the Inquiry this afternoon with a strong hint that he needs to set the record straight. But will we ever find out the truth of the matter?

Lyne put it to Sawers, that Sir Suma Chakrabarti, previously the permanent secretary at the department for international development (DFID), had told the Inquiry that DFID were excluded from the Cabinet Office’s 2001 review of Iraq policy, probably for political reasons. Sawers, who was responsible for the review from No 10’s point of view, said that he hadn’t excluded them. After a bit of waffle, Lyne said:

“Given that Sir Suma has introduced this point into evidence here, you might just want to look back at some of the papers and take some advice on this and if there is anything further you want to say about it when we see you next week, I’m sure we would be happy to hear it.”

Chakrabarti hadn’t actually said that No 10 was responsible – in fact he ducked the question. It’s difficult to imagine Lyne giving Sawers such a stong hint if he didn’t know there was something in the papers that could make him change his answer. This goes back to the point chairman Sir John Chilcot made before the hearings started, that the Inquiry’s possession of all the papers is a deterrent against witnesses dissembling. Lyne has given Sawers another chance to make sure he is telling the truth and given him no excuse if he doesn’t. This afternoon’s session is an open one, so we should hear more.

The trouble is that the papers in question have not been published and will not be published any time soon. The Inquiry is concealing far more by withholding documentary evidence than the occasional blackout to the broadcast of its very cosy hearings.

Having consulted the relevant papers, Sawers may well make an admission in his own terms that he got things wrong. But what if he calls the Inquiry’s bluff and stick to his guns, on the assumption that they won’t dare – or can’t – show him up? And if he admits that he got things wrong, how big an “error” was it and should he in fact have known better? If ever there was a case for publishing the relevant papers to “increase public understanding”, this is it. But it looks as if we will be kept in the dark as usual.

4 comments to this article

  1. Stan Rosenthal

    on December 16, 2009 at 11:26 am -

    With respect, Chris, I think you are exaggerating the importance of this matter.

  2. Chris Ames

    on December 16, 2009 at 11:33 am -

    Just flagging up something to look out for later. My guess is that Sawers will address this issue at the beginning of his evidence.
    The issue is not whether No 10 kept DfID out of the 2001 review of Iraq policy but whether Sawers said something that he knew or should have known was untrue.
    If the Inquiry does force someone to change his story based on actual documentary evidence, that would be a major development and we will have to see how it is handled.
    Of course, my point is that we won’t necessarily know whether Sawers said something that was completely untrue because the documents that cover the issue remain secret.

  3. Lee Roberts

    on December 16, 2009 at 2:39 pm -

    “With respect, Chris, I think you are exaggerating the importance of this matter”, rather like Bush and Blair exaggerated the weapons inspection incidents into an overwhelming case for war.