The blocking of the Chilcot report underlines how the powerful shield their activities from the public
It is the greatest scandal of British public life in a generation, yet Blair and his allies, such as Jack Straw and Alastair Campbell, have never been properly held to account. More than a decade after we went to war, Sir John Chilcot’s report is stalled because Sir Jeremy Heywood, the current cabinet secretary, who was at Blair’s side as principle private secretary during the run-up to the invasion, is blocking crucial evidence to the inquiry.
It is an unbelievable state of affairs. As the former foreign secretary Lord Owen pointed out last week, you couldn’t have a more dubious arrangement. A man who was integral to the government that took us to war is now sitting on evidence of 200 relevant cabinet level discussions, 25 notes written by Blair to George Bush and records of 130 phone conversations between Blair, Bush and Gordon Brown. Heywood claims that he’s bound by the decision taken by his predecessor, Lord O’Donnell, to protect the confidentiality of Blair and Bush’s discussions. In effect, Heywood is claiming that he has no discretion and therefore his past as senior official in Blair’s Number 10 at the time has no relevance.
What is so dismal about this situation, quite apart from the naked self-interest that it represents, is that it underlines that while the British public is expected to put up with ever-increasing levels of intrusion by surveillance, in the name of transparency and security, those in power create for themselves an impregnable bunker where honour, accountability and public opinion count for nothing. They conceal their actions and shield themselves from entirely legitimate requests from an inquiry set up by the prime minister himself.
But in all this, there is a much bigger theme, which is seen in another sputtering inquiry into the behaviour of Blair-era politicians and officials – the Gibson inquiry into allegations that British intelligence agencies were complicit in the torture of terror suspects after 9/11 and that officials in the then foreign secretary Jack Straw’s office were aware. The inquiry’s investigations ended nearly two years ago and the report has been sat on by Number 10 for the past 14 months. After the NGOs and torture victims boycotted Sir Peter Gibson’s inquiry, because it lacked credibility, it probably won’t have the damning impact it should have when it is finally published this week.
As a result, Number 10 may get away without following up with examination of cases such as those of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who was rendered with his wife for torture to Gaddafi’s Libya in an operation involving Sir Mark Allen of MI6 during Jack Straw’s time at the Foreign Office.