» Friday, July 16, 2004

Iraq/Butler Report

Asked for a reaction to the by-election result in Leicester South in which it seemed that the public had delivered a protest vote against the Government because of the war on Iraq, the PMOS said that as a Civil Servant, he was unable to comment directly on party political issues. That said, as the Prime Minister had made clear once again in his Statement this week, he recognised that people on both sides of the argument held strong views about the war. In his own opinion, the policy of containment had not been working and, post-September 11, it had become clear that the calculus of the threat had changed. He accepted that other people took a different view. However, people needed to start recognising that we had now had four inquiries which had found that the accusation that the Government had acted in bad faith did not stand up. Put to him that the voters still appeared to want to punish the Government for the war, even after four inquiries, the PMOS said the Prime Minister hoped that people’s views would change as they saw progress being made in Iraq in terms of the interim Government taking charge, the continuing move towards democracy and the Iraqi-isation of the security effort. In the Iraqi Government’s view, those who were carrying out acts of violence were clearly doing so against the wishes of the Iraqi people. They were determined that progress would continue. No one could deny that Iraq was better off now that it had been under Saddam.

Asked why Lord Hutton had not been informed that some intelligence relating to claims about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons (CBW) capability had been withdrawn in July 2003, a month before John Scarlett had given evidence to him, the PMOS said it would seem that the media had got themselves in a bit of a muddle over this story and it was therefore important to set the record straight. It was necessary for people to recognise that we were not talking about the 45-minute claim, but one element of the picture on CBW. Secondly, people should remember what the Hutton Report had been about – the controversy surrounding the 45-minute claim and Dr David Kelly’s death. The questions which had been asked of John Scarlett and the other security service witnesses had been asked within that context. Indeed Lord Hutton, himself had made it clear in Paragraph 9 of his Report that he did not see his remit as being to look at the wider intelligence picture. That had been Lord Butler’s task. Having looked at all the evidence – including the reasons why and when this particular piece of intelligence had been withdrawn, he had concluded that everyone in government had acted in good faith; that, as John Scarlett told the Hutton Inquiry, the dossier had reflected the available intelligence at the time; that there was no deliberate attempt to distort the evidence as Paragraph 333 stated “the dossier reflected fairly the judgements of past JIC assessments”; and, specifically, that John Scarlett should take up his post as head of SIS. Lord Butler had endorsed Lord Hutton’s Report. The piece of intelligence in question had only been one part of the picture on CBW production. The process of SIS validation had still been ongoing at the time of the Hutton Inquiry – and indeed was still ongoing. That process meant that, when John Scarlett had appeared before the Inquiry, this matter was still being investigated as a sensitive, operational matter. So even if he had been asked about this particular piece of intelligence – which he hadn’t been – it would have been completely wrong and improper for him to have mentioned it in public. Therefore, Lord Hutton had not been misled, as was being implied by some parts of the media today. He had seen everything that was relevant to his inquiry and whatever intelligence he wanted to see. Lord Butler, having seen everything and having considered the wider intelligent picture, had concluded that everyone had acted in good faith; that John Scarlett was the right person to head the SIS; and that the Government’s dossier had accurately reflected the state of knowledge at the time.

Asked if Downing Street believed that an opportunity should have been found between the time of the Hutton Report and now to inform people that the particular piece of intelligence on CBW had been withdrawn, the PMOS pointed out again that the process of validation had still been ongoing at the time of the Hutton Inquiry – and indeed was still ongoing today. Consequently, it would have been completely improper for John Scarlett to have mentioned it when he had given evidence to Lord Hutton. Moreover, it was important for people to recognise that this was just one element of the picture on CBW, not the only one. Put to him that Sir Richard Dearlove had told Lord Hutton that the information contained in the dossier was sound, the PMOS repeated that the piece of intelligence in question was just one element of the picture on CBW. It wasn’t the only one. He pointed out that Lord Butler had seen the all the evidence and had also concluded that “the dossier reflected fairly the judgements of past JIC assessments” (paragraph 333). Put to him that the SIS’s decision not to inform Lord Hutton that the intelligence had been withdrawn meant that Sir Richard Dearlove’s evidence had been wrong, the PMOS said that Lord Hutton had been investigating the controversy surrounding the 45-minute claim, not the wider intelligence picture. That had been Lord Butler’s task. The evidence that had been given to the Hutton Inquiry was the evidence that had been available at the time. Asked who had decided not to inform Lord Hutton, the PMOS said that the implication of the line of questioning suggested that this was a matter which had been relevant to Lord Hutton’s Inquiry. It had not been. Asked who had decided it had not been relevant, the PMOS repeated that since the matter was still being investigated at the time as sensitive, operational matter, it would have been completely wrong to have mentioned it at that stage.

Asked why there had been no attempt to set the record straight in the light of Lord Butler’s conclusion that the particular piece of intelligence had had a major effect on the certainty of statements in the dossier that Iraq possessed and was producing CBW, the PMOS repeated that the process of validation was still ongoing. It wasn’t our policy to inform the public every time a piece of intelligence came in or was withdrawn. The key point was that the intelligence in question was just one element of the picture on CBW. It wasn’t the only one. Asked to clarify what was being validated and for how long the process would continue, the PMOS acknowledged that one piece of intelligence had been withdrawn because there were question marks over it. However, the point he was making was that the process had to consider the complete CBW picture, not just one element of it. Put to him that it might have been just one element, but it was important nonetheless because the Prime Minister’s conviction about Iraq’s CBW capability, as stated in his foreword to the dossier, was based on this discredited source, the PMOS repeated that Lord Hutton’s remit had not focussed on the wider intelligence picture. That had been Lord Butler’s job. As such, he had also been the best person to assess the importance of the intelligence that had been provided. Having considered all the material available, he had come to the conclusion that people had acted in good faith. He had also underlined his view regarding the suitability of John Scarlett to take up his post as the next head of the SIS. That was where the Government was content for the matter to rest.

Asked when the Prime Minister had discovered that the intelligence in question had been withdrawn, the PMOS said that he had not known at the time he had given evidence to Lord Hutton because the process of validation had been ongoing. Asked when he had found out, the PMOS said that it was as a result of the Butler Inquiry. Put to him that that was a little hard to believe, the PMOS underlined that the intelligence was just one element of the CBW picture, not the only one. In addition, the validation process was still ongoing. The position was not going to change, no matter how many times journalists asked the same question.

Asked if he would agree, even though Lord Butler had refused to name names, that people could work out who had been responsible for ‘hardening up’ the dossier in the light of conversations between John Scarlett and Alastair Campbell, as highlighted in the Hutton Report, while the dossier was still in its production stages, the PMOS said that both Lord Hutton and Lord Butler had come to the conclusions that they had, as had the ISC and FAC. All had agreed that no one in Government had acted in bad faith. ‘No one’ meant ‘no one’, not ‘no one except……’. No one had acted in bad faith, full stop. None of the reports had implied that any particular person was to blame. Put to him again that, taking the Hutton and Butler Reports in tandem, it was clear that Alastair Campbell and John Scarlett had been responsible for hardening up the dossier, the PMOS said that neither Lord Butler nor Lord Hutton had come to that conclusion. It would therefore seem that the journalist’s argument was not with him, but with them.

Asked for a reaction to reports that Sir Richard Dearlove had recommended that John Scarlett should not be his successor, the PMOS said that as he had pointed out on numerous occasions recently, an independent selection panel, chaired by Sir David Omand, had recommended Mr Scarlett’s appointment. Most unusually, moreover, the Butler Committee had gone out of its way to explain why they believed that John Scarlett was the right person for the job. Lord Butler himself had endorsed that view in his press conference on Wednesday. Put to him that it was most unusual that Sir Richard Dearlove’s deputy had not got the job, the PMOS repeated that an independent selection panel had recommended the appointment of Mr Scarlett. He had no intention of trying to second-guess the thinking behind their decision.

Asked for a reaction to reports suggesting that John Scarlett’s replacement at the JIC was someone who did not coincide with the recommendations of the Butler Inquiry, the PMOS said that an appointment had not yet been announced. In addition, the process was being carried out by the Cabinet Office. Consequently, it would be inappropriate for him to comment on it. Pressed as to whether an appointment had already been made, the PMOS said that the Cabinet Office would make the announcement when they were ready to do so.

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


  1. I will definitely not be voting for these arrogant fools.

    With their constant weasel-words, lying, skirting the real questions, they seem to be trying to beat the tories at their own game.

    Lying to the country is wrong, no matter how misguided you were by dodgy intelligence. Lying to the electorate is fatal to a political party: maybe not in more media-controlled (brainwashed) countries, but hopefully in this one.

    Let us hope the electorate remembers being lied to when it is time to consign these fools to the political bin.

    Comment by mick — 17 Jul 2004 on 8:05 pm | Link
  2. While I think I agree with your sentiments I don\x92t see how the current Labour Government will be \x91consigned\x85.to the political bin\x92 at the next election.

    If we assume that people only vote on Iraq war issues then the Labour party will lose a lot of votes. However the electorate may also remember the scenes at the Iraq war debate when the Tories were almost wetting themselves with excitement at the thought of starting a war and the level of abuse they hurled at Charles Kennedy and anyone else who so much as suggested that the case for war had not been made. There were far more anti-war votes from Labour than the Conservatives. The question of acting on evidence is also not a vote winner for the Tories because the leaders of the opposition parties were given access to the same intelligence as the PM in the run up to the war.

    This means that an anti-Iraq-war election would bring a huge swing of votes towards the Lib Dems \x96 the recent by-elections may be proof of this. But in reality I don\x92t think even the Lib Dems think that they will be forming the next Government. There may be increases in votes for other anti-war parties (Greens, Respect etc) but under our current voting system it is unlikely that they will win even one seat.

    Therefore I think that this one issue is unlikely to remove Labour from power at the next election. My main hope is that Labour loses enough seats to the Lib Dems to vastly reduce their majority and bring about a proper three party system. That would at least force all the parties to listen more to the electorate.

    Comment by Uncarved Block — 17 Jul 2004 on 9:17 pm | Link
  3. All true; however, Michael Howard has only just issued a statement saying he "wouldn’t have supported the war if he knew then what he knows now" etc. I know that this will be seen by many as a cynical piece of opportunism, which may well be true. And no doubt there will be rumblings about his fickleness for a while.

    BUT. It is essential for effective opposition right now that the Tories distance themselves from Labours stance on Iraq. As Michael Howard has said in the past, just because he supported the war doesn’t mean he can’t ask questions; hopefully after the furore has died down over his U-turn, his questions may have some extra weight.

    Hopefully. Because the US administration should scare the pants off anyone with any sense, and the fact that Blair is so tight with Bush is worrying in the extreme. Apparently Bush will target Iran if he is re-elected – can the British taxpayers really afford to foot the bill for another ill-advised conflict.

    Comment by PapaLazzzaru — 17 Jul 2004 on 10:26 pm | Link
  4. While I agree that effective opposition is needed I also think that the direction of that opposition is important. Historically and from all current rhetoric the Tories are even more pro-US than Labour. The only opposition I have some faith in is either the Lib Dems or the Labour back-benches.

    Comment by Uncarved Block — 18 Jul 2004 on 10:53 am | Link
  5. Ok, perhaps I should have qualified that a bit more; I’m talking about in the short term – ie; until the next election. A further qualification; at the same time I also hope that the Tories don’t get in. Lib Dem would seem to be the only reasonable alternative at the moment, or even a Coalition government; anything to reign in some of the executive power which Bliar has managed to pull into Downing Street. In actual fact I firmly believe it is high time that our whole system of government underwent a massive overhaul; I can’t see it happening but it’s nice to dream…

    Comment by PapaLazzzaru — 18 Jul 2004 on 10:20 pm | Link
  6. The problem is, it is actually difficult to figure out how to replace them, if at all. The Tory party has done a good job of showing people why they shouldn’t be allowed to have the reigns of power; the Liberal Democrats have done a good job of elucidating their anti-war policy, but little else.

    I would dearly love to see the Liberal Democrats acting as a true shadow government, putting out alternative policies and pushing themselves as a ready-to-install government in waiting. But unless that happens, I just can’t see it happening; the fact that I would vote LD next election does not also mean that I would expect them to win, nor does it mean that I think they are ready in their current state to become the next Government.

    That’s the true shame; a system of more than two parties where all but one are in no fit state to govern.

    Comment by Gregory Block — 19 Jul 2004 on 9:37 am | Link

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