Chilcott's anger as Blair's Iraq memos to Bush stay secretBy Ian Drury
Last updated at 1:23 AM on 19th January 2011
'Disappointed': Sir John Chilcot
Cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell was yesterday accused of a ‘shameless cover-up’ for withholding ‘critical’ evidence for fear it would damage relations between Britain and the U.S.
Sir John Chilcot, the Iraq inquiry chairman, said he was ‘disappointed’ that notes of the discussions and private memos would remain under lock and key.
On Friday Mr Blair will face his second grilling by the inquiry, which is investigating Britain’s role in the run-up to and aftermath of the 2003 invasion.
The five-member panel has seen the documents but is not allowed to make them public or even refer to extracts when questioning him.
Last night the Cabinet Office indicated Sir Gus had consulted Mr Blair before making his decision.
A spokesman said there was an ‘established convention... whereby former ministers would normally be consulted before release of papers from their time in government’.
But relatives of the 179 servicemen who died in Iraq questioned the decision.
They believe Mr Blair made private promises to the White House in 2002 to join military action, whether or not they had secured United Nations authorisation.
Yesterday Sir John said: ‘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.
On the spot: Tony Blair giving evidence to the Iraq inquiry last year
‘This means that in a narrow but important area the inquiry may not be able to publish as fully as it would wish the evidential basis for some of its comments and conclusions.’
The dispute emerged at the start of the latest round of public hearings at the inquiry after a six-month break. Sir Gus sought to block the committee from referring to the timing of Mr Blair’s notes to Washington, or the fact they even existed.
He gave in after pressure from the panel. In a letter dated January 11, he said: ‘Exchanges between the former UK prime minister and U.S. President represent particularly privileged channels of communication, the preservation of which is strongly in the public interest.
Close: Tony Blair and George Bush. E-mails between them will stay secret
Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said yesterday: ‘The panel could surely be trusted to decide whether any
document should be in the public domain with due regard for the
distinction between the national interest and private
embarrassment.’ Reg Keys, whose son Tom was killed in Iraq, added: ‘If there is nothing controversial in them, why are they being shamelessly covered up?’
Last night Number 10 said Mr Cameron had not been consulted about the latest decision.
On Monday explosive documents released by the inquiry suggested Mr Blair misled parliament and the public about the legality of the war.
Former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said Mr Blair’s claims that Britain did not need a UN resolution explicitly authorising force were not compatible with his legal advice.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1348331/Iraq-inquiry-chairmans-anger-Government-blocks-Blair-Bush-emails.html#ixzz1BTZpDXXN