On, no, Sir John – Chilcot’s “disappointment” over Cabinet Secretary’s Veto on Blair notes to Bush

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    18th January 2011

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    A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: “All HMG (HM Government) documents have been made available to the inquiry. The issue is one of publication. Exchanges between the UK prime minister and the US president are particularly privileged channels of communication.

    “The Cabinet Secretary is of the firm view that the public interest in publishing these letters is not outweighed by the harm to the UK’s international relations that would likely be caused by his authorising their disclosure. This is in line with the published protocol. The majority of the inquiry’s declassification requests have been met. But there are important public interest principles at stake. These are recognised in the protocol.”

    Sir John Chilcot, opening statement 18 January 2011

    (source: Iraq Inquiry website)

    Good afternoon and welcome. The Iraq Inquiry begins a short round of public hearings today.

    The Inquiry has spent the last few months analysing many thousands of documents. We have visited Baghdad, Basra and Erbil to hear from Iraqis themselves who told us how they feel about the UK involvement in their country. We were able to see for ourselves the consequences of the US and UK led invasion of 2003. These visits have made a profound impression on my colleagues and me, which we will reflect in our report.

    In the last few weeks, the Committee has taken further evidence in private from Sir David Pepper (former Head of GCHQ), Sir Tony Brenton who served in the British Embassy in Washington between 2001 and 2004 and Emma Sky who has worked extensively for the British and American governments in Iraq.

    As we begin to write our report, there are a few remaining areas where we need to clarify exactly what happened. It is that which has determined the witnesses in this round. The majority of the 12 witnesses we will see in public hearings over the next three weeks will be new witnesses.

    We have also sought statements from a number of witnesses. We have begun to publish witness statements that we have received. There will be more in the coming days.

    I want to reiterate that I am satisfied that the government has met, and continues to meet, its undertaking to give the Iraq Inquiry full access to all the relevant documents. In a few cases, it has not yet been possible to find every document. We will address that in our report, if we think it is significant. I must stress that we attribute this to administrative shortcomings, and not the deliberate withholding of information. If that were to change, we would say so.

    The Inquiry will always seek to take evidence in public unless there are specific grounds under our protocols why it cannot do so. The Inquiry is determined to be as transparent as possible in its work. I thought that was important when I took on the role of Chairman and our commitment to make public as much as possible continues. Yesterday we published the transcripts of five of our private evidence sessions on the Inquiry website. In places, extracts have been redacted in accordance with the protocol with the government. We are pleased that we have been able to make so much public. We will continue to publish further transcripts and declassified documents in the coming weeks to assist the public understanding of our work.

    There is one area where, I am sorry to say, it has not been possible to reach agreement with the government.

    The papers we hold include the notes which Prime Minister Blair sent to President Bush and the records of their discussions. The Inquiry recognises the privileged nature of those exchanges but, exceptionally, we sought disclosure of key extracts which illuminate Prime Minister Blair’s positions at critical points. The Cabinet Office did not agree this disclosure. On 10 December last year, in accordance with the Protocol, I asked the Cabinet Secretary to review that decision. I also made it clear that, if we could not reach agreement, I would publish the correspondence between us. I am doing so today.

    The Inquiry is disappointed that the Cabinet Secretary was not willing to accede to its request. This means that in a narrow but important area the Inquiry may not always be able to publish as fully as it would wish the evidential basis for some of its comments and conclusions.

    The Inquiry is free to say what it thinks. We shall complete our task and make our own independent judgements about the UK’s involvement in Iraq.

    The Inquiry is now drawing together the evidence it has received and this round of public hearings will be a vital element of that. The Inquiry looks forward to producing its report as soon as it is able.


    One day these guys might be grateful that the Cabinet Secretary can override external wishes  on releasing private papers “in the national interest”


    [Thanks to Zimbio for the above photograph]

    In This Photo: David Cameron, William Hague, Vince Cable, Gus O’Donnell (L-R) Business Secretary Vince Cable, Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell, Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague at Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country residence, on July 23, 2010 in Buckinghamshire, England. ( Photo by WPA Pool/Getty Images Europe)


    ExPrime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony B...

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    Relevant documents to and from Chilcot’s Inquiry panel and others including this 11th January 2011 letter from Sir Gus O’Donnell to Sir John Chilcot in which the former explains his reasons for withholding the private notes from Mr Blair to Mr Bush.


    17th Jan 2011: Iraq Inquiry publishes transcripts from private hearings

    17 January 2011

    Today, the Iraq Inquiry has published a number of documents. These include Lord Goldsmith’s witness statement, the transcripts of five private hearings, some correspondence and a number of declassified documents to assist public understanding of these transcripts and the witness statement.

    The Inquiry has held the vast majority of its hearings in public. Hearings have only been held in private when the Inquiry has judged that there are grounds under its Protocol on hearing evidence in public and identifying witnesses which determined that evidence would need to be heard in private. For example when taking evidence which if heard in public would be likely to damage national security or harm international relations.

    The Inquiry has considered how best to draw on and explain in public what was covered in private. It has sought the declassification of private hearing transcripts. Those which have been declassified will be published on the Inquiry’s website. In places redactions will need to be made in line with the Protocol between the Iraq Inquiry and the Government regarding Documents and Other Written and Electronic Information and the Inquiry’s Protocol for witnesses.

    Today the Inquiry has published the transcripts of the private hearings with the following witnesses.

    Name Relevant Role
    Sir Jeremy Greenstock GCMG HM Ambassador to United Nation 1998- July 2003 and UK Special Representative for Iraq 2003 to 2004
    Ian Lee Director General Operational Policy, Ministry of Defence, 2002 to 2004
    Sir David Manning GCMG CVO Foreign Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister 2001 to 2003 and HM Ambassador to Washington 2003 to 2007
    Sir Kevin Tebbit KCB CMG Permanent Under Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, 1998-2005
    Simon Webb CBE Policy Director, Ministry of Defence, 2001 to 2004

    A number of declassified documents have also been published. The Inquiry will continue to publish more transcripts, witness statements and documents where and when the Inquiry feels that publication will aid public understanding of its work. More will be published in the coming weeks.

    Finally the Inquiry is publishing a letter from Rt Hon Ed Balls MP. During the Labour party leadership race, Mr Balls was quoted in the national media making some comments about his involvement in discussions about Iraq. The Inquiry wrote to Mr Balls asking him to clarify those reported comments. The Inquiry thought it should publish Mr Balls’ reply.


    Timetable for the Inquiry this week and next

    This Week

    Week 19: 18 – 21 January 2011

    Date Witness Timing of session Subject
    Tue 18 January Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy GCB CBE DSO 15:00 – 18:00 United Kingdom’s Air Component Commander for Operation Telic One, 2003
    Chief of Joint Operations, 2004 to 2006
    Chief of the Air Staff, 2006 to 2009
    Wed 19 January Tom McKane 10:00 – 13:00 Deputy Head of Defence & Overseas Secretariat, Cabinet Office, 1999 to 2002
    Sir Stephen Wall GCMG LVO 14:00 – 16:00 Prime Minister’s Adviser on European Issues and Head of the Cabinet Office’s European Secretariat, 2000 to 2004
    Fri 21 January The Rt Hon. Tony Blair 09:30 – c.14:00 Prime Minister, 1997 to 2007


    Next Week

    Week 20: 25 – 28 January 2011

    Date Witness Timing of session Subject
    Tue 25 January Lord Wilson of Dinton GCB 10:00 – 12:00 Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service, 1998 to 2002
    Lord Turnbull of Enfield GCB 14:00 – 16:00 Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service, 2002 to 2005
    Wed 25 January Sir David Richmond KBE CMG 14:00 – 17:00 Deputy United Kingdom Special Representative to Iraq, 2003 to 2004

    United Kingdom Special Representative to Iraq, 2004

    Director General Defence and Intelligence, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 2004 to 2007

    Thur 27 January Admiral The Lord Boyce GCB OBE DL 14:00 – 17:00 Chief of the Defence Staff, 2001 to 2003
    Fri 28 January Sir Gus O’Donnell KCB 10:00 – 13:00 Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service, 2005 to date



    So by the end of next week Sir John’s panel will have the opportunity to try to get further clarification as to why exactly Sir Gus felt unable to allow free access to the world the notes and memos of Tony Blair to George Bush. But if you think that most unWikileaks-like approach will be an end to the matter, think again.

    There are some who, without a certain head on a plate, will never be satisfied, disclosed private notes or not.



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    4 Responses to “On, no, Sir John – Chilcot’s “disappointment” over Cabinet Secretary’s Veto on Blair notes to Bush”

    1. celia walters Says:

      The inquiry could have asked questions to Blair in public on these notes that’s why they wanted them published and the antis will read now that there is some conspiracy in these notes to allow blair and bush to commit criminal acTS JUST BE AWARE of more twadle

      • keeptonyblairforpm Says:

        Yes, Celia. The conspiracy theorists will be having a field-day.

        But Blair can’t win whatever happens, papers seen or not.

        If these notes were published and he had said something like “George, rest assured that only over my dead body will Britain fail to support the USA. And I have ALWAYS wanted Saddam out anyway, whatever it takes” you can imagine the uproar.

        There is no halfway with these haters. No understanding of any position other than “Blair lied, people died”. They are simple-minded and single-minded. If only life and politics were that simple.

        Clearly Chilcot is running scared of the Inquiry being labelled a whitewash, given the Butler and Hutton inquiries having been discredited by the press and peace’n’lovers. But he must realise that if he doesn’t come up with conclusions that result in Blair being TRIED in a court of law, it’ll be considered a whitewash anyway!

        On the other hand, Chilcot said that he only wanted to make SOME parts of the papers public. O’Donnell would have been worried about setting a precedent, which at some later stage would be used again. Chilcot in one of his letters to O’Donnell says that they will now have to come to their final conclusions without evidential back-up from ALL the publicised evidence, and they say these notes from Blair to Bush are central to this.

        They are now intending to ask Blair these questions INDIRECTLY.

        I wonder how he’ll deal with this.

        I’ll soon know. I’ll be at the Inquiry again on Friday. Will write about it later.

        I can hear Ming Campbell moaning on about it right now on News at 10. What a wally he is!

    2. wien1938 Says:

      Ming Campbell will be saying “please don’t end this issue! It’s the only way we’ve got of keeping Lib Dem party members!”

      • keeptonyblairforpm Says:

        Quite. But although they don’t realise it, so blinded are they by their own certainties and propaganda (as is Ed M btw) this pursuit of TB over the so-called ‘disastrous war’ etc is a great way to lose members right across the political spectrum. So keep at it, Sir Ming.

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