» Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Butler Inquiry/Dr Jones

Asked if the Government had a response to comments made by Dr Brian Jones in the Independent this morning, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said he was surprised at the newspaper’s own surprise at Dr Jones’ remarks. He reminded journalists that Dr Jones had made much the same remarks on 3rd September 2003, as journalists would discover if they looked at news reports at that time. If journalists looked at the Independent itself on the 4th September 2003, it covered pretty much the same ground, including the conclusion that “yesterday’s criticism from the Intelligence Community re-enforced the impression that the Hutton Inquiry had turned into quicksand for Downing Street”. All that Dr Jones had said today had already been considered either by Lord Hutton or the ISC. Brian Jones was an acknowledged expert within his own particular field, but as Lord Hutton had heard, his concerns had been considered by his two superiors in the DIS, both of whom had given evidence, and both of whom were on the JIC, and they had not taken up his concerns. It should also be remembered that Dr Jones had not said that the 45-minute point should not have been included in the dossier, simply that it should have been expressed in a slightly different form of words.

Asked if the Prime Minister would publish the secret intelligence on the 45-minute claim, the PMOS said that the way in which the question had been asked underlined why it would be foolish to release the evidence. This was highly classified intelligence material and that remained the case. The important point was that Lord Hutton had seen the relevant intelligence.

Asked if Dr Jones’ bosses had over-ruled him for political reasons rather than because they had seen intelligence which Dr Jones had not, the PMOS said that simply because someone disagreed with your assessment, it was not a reason to call into question their integrity for doing so. Lord Hutton dealt with the issue of integrity and bad faith and he had cleared everyone in Government – Ministers and Officials – of having acted in bad faith. Asked if there was intelligence which separately confirmed the existence of WMD, the PMOS said that the intelligence assessments were made by the JIC, who were the only group who had seen the full intelligence. It had been their conclusions which were reflected in the Dossier. Lord Hutton had had the chance to review all the material and he came to the conclusions he did.

Asked if, with the benefit of hindsight and following David Kay’s remarks to the Senate, Dr Jones’ comments had been proved right, the PMOS said that the important point was that Dr Jones’ remarks had been considered in the appropriate way by his superiors and had not been taken up. In respect of David Kay, it was also important to recognise what else David Kay had said. He had said that the ISG had found hundreds of cases of activities that should have been reported under 1441 and weren’t, that Iraq was in clear and material breach of 1441, had the intention to resume its WMD activities as soon as possible and concluded by saying that this might be one of those cases where it was even more dangerous than we thought because of the danger of crossover between Iraq and Terrorism. That was the full nature of what David Kay had said and it was important that people reflected that.

Asked if the Prime Minister had felt let down by the JIC if concerns hadn’t been passed to him, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister believed that the JIC reached its conclusions on the basis of proper procedures. Therefore the question wasn’t relevant, since the Prime Minister believed that the JIC had approached its task in the right way. What was important was that the Butler Inquiry now looked at the wider issues of intelligence, not just in Iraq but also WMD in general.

Asked if Downing Street had any response to Colin Powell’s comments that if he had known that there were no large stockpiles of WMD in Iraq he might have changed his mind about whether it was right to go to war, the PMOS said that he believed that Colin Powell himself had queried that interpretation of his comments. The PMOS said he would rather not get caught between the US Secretary of State and the Washington Post; he would leave them to resolve their differences. The important point was that David Kay had concluded on the basis of the Interim ISG Report, not the final report which was still to come, that there were hundreds of cases of activities which breached 1441, that was the important point.

Asked if the Prime Minister was ready to concede the fact that the 45-minute claim was wrong, the PMOS said that the work of the ISG was not yet complete. There were literally hundreds of thousands of pages of documents still to be gone through. Therefore the work of the ISG was still far from complete. Before we rushed to judgement we still had to let that work carry on. At the same time the Butler Inquiry was looking at the wider issue of intelligence.

Asked if, in the light of David Kay’s evidence, the Prime Minister now felt that all means had been exhausted before we had gone to war, the PMOS said that he thought people were taking a slightly lop-sided view of David Kay’s evidence. What David Kay had actually said was that if we had not acted at the time that we had acted, then the danger of crossover between Iraq and terrorists was very real.

Asked if the Government was accusing Saddam Hussein of having ‘Documents of Mass Destruction’, given that the Government had said before that he had missiles which could be deployed within 45 minutes, didn’t the Government need to find the weapons themselves, rather than a bit of paper saying it would be nice to have them, the PMOS asked if he could have a serious question. Questioned further, the PMOS said it was not a serious question because it was obvious that documents related to programs and activities containing evidence as to what was going on. To interpret in the way the question had done was just facile.

Asked if the Butler Inquiry would get access to the raw intelligence that Dr Jones had referred to, the PMOS said that the Butler Inquiry would get access to whatever it wanted to get access to.

Asked if he expected the Butler Inquiry to call the Prime Minister to give evidence, the PMOS said that was a matter for Lord Butler how he conducted his Inquiry and he was not going to get into second-guessing him.

Asked if the Prime Minister would be willing to appear before the Inquiry should he be asked to do so, the PMOS said that that was hypothetical piled on hypothetical. Lord Butler should be left to decide how he wished to conduct his inquiry and then it would be a matter for Lord Butler. Put to him that there was no doubt that the Prime Minister would have to go, the PMOS said that we were getting to the stage where we were saying that Lord Butler had already decided something which he hadn’t actually decided yet. It was better to let the process take its course. Asked if it was on the same basis as the Hutton Inquiry, that if Lord Butler decided to call someone they would not legally obliged to talk to him, but the assumption would be that should they be asked they should go, the PMOS said that Lord Butler will be able to call witnesses and witnesses would be expected to attend. Asked if they would be legally bound, the PMOS said that the precise terms should be checked with the Cabinet Office. His understanding was however that witnesses would be obliged to attend. Asked if there was a contradiction between saying that witnesses would be obliged to attend and not commenting on whether the Prime Minister would, the PMOS said it was better if you set up an Inquiry, to let that Inquiry decide how it was going to conduct itself and who it was going to call before expecting the Government to give a running commentary on the Inquiry. He did not want to pre-empt what Lord Butler would or would not do.

Asked if the Prime Minister accepted any of the comments suggesting that Lord Butler was inappropriate for the Inquiry, the PMOS said no. Lord Butler’s reputation as a Senior Civil Servant was beyond reproach. The experience of the other members of the Committee spoke for itself. It was simply facile to dismiss people because some people did not like the outcome of one Inquiry, or were rushing to pre-judge the outcome of another. What Lord Butler should be judged on was the outcome of his Inquiry, not pre-judgments made beforehand.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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