David Blackburn

The Chilcot inquiry

The Chilcot inquiry
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The general opinion is that Sir John Chilcot’s terms of reference imply that his Iraq inquiry will be more open than its predecessors and that this is bad news for Brown. Former Defence committee chairman Michael Mates said that, unlike the two inquiries he sat on, Chilcot’s will have “much more independence than the Prime Minister or the government wanted him to have”, estimating that  “70% to 80% (of hearings) will be (held) in public.”

William Hague lent his support and believes that the inquiry’s terms are not what the government wanted – as, according to the Standard’s Joe Murphy, Brown and Blair are to be grilled live on television I can well believe that (perhaps we will be treated to a reminder of why Brown decided against televised election debates). Hague is wary that “sessions can be held in private if there is a need for candour – I hope his won’t become an excuse for ministers and former ministers to give evidence in private”. Hague’s worries on this last point are valid but Sir John’s terms, if they are ruthlessly enforced, should go someway to allaying them. He vows to recall any witness that abused private hearings and “make them testify publically”. That warning should deter would be dissemblers.

The major news though is that the government’s attempt to keep this under wraps has failed. There was a revealing moment during Chilcot’s press conference when the BBC’s Carol Walker asked Chilcot about procedure and then if Brown had asked Chilcot to keep the affair private. Chilcot answered the first question and then said: ‘You asked another question, I forget what about’. She reiterated it. After a long pause he answered: ‘It’s a fair question,’ He paused again before continuing: ‘I am quite committed for this inquiry to have confidence; it needs the maximum amount of openness. That has been my position from the start.” As circumlocution goes, that is first class. The contrast between Blair’s management of Iraq inquiries, under enormous personal pressure, and Brown’s are obvious.