US given assurances it would not be compromised by Chilcot Iraq inquiry

 

WASHINGTON WAS given assurances by then British prime minister Gordon Brown last year that the inquiry headed by former top civil servant John Chilcot into the lessons to be learnt from the Iraq invasion would not jeopardise the United States.

The US had feared that secret intelligence would be revealed during the hearings. When he launched the Chilcot inquiry in June last year, Mr Brown said that national security would be the only grounds for limiting the full disclosure of documents to the inquiry, although it did emerge in October that nine additional grounds for restrictions had been put in place, including commercial and economic grounds.

Now, it has emerged in one of the US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks that a senior ministry of defence official, Jon Day, promised US officials the month before that “the UK had put measures in place to protect [US] interests during the UK inquiry into the causes of the Iraq war”.

In December last year, Mr Chilcot said during one public session of the inquiry that he was unable to quote from intelligence documents during questioning of the former attorney general, Lord Peter Goldsmith, about the legal advice he had given Tony Blair as prime minister in the run-up to the war.

Last night, Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, said the publication of the Day message would “surprise” the inquiry’s members.

“There is an important distinction between preserving the national interest of the United States and protecting its government from embarrassment,” he said.

Last night, the inquiry stayed out of the controversy. “The Iraq inquiry is independent of the British government. The protocol agreed between the Iraq inquiry and the government allows for material to be withheld from publication if [it] would damage international relations or breach the third-party rule governing non-disclosure of intelligence material.”

During his time in opposition, the now deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg had complained about the extra nine grounds, saying that they “outrageously” gave government departments “individual rights of veto” on issues that have “nothing to do with national security”.

Meanwhile, business secretary, Vince Cable said it would “be helpful” if Prince Andrew, who acts as the UK’s special representative for international trade and investment, made no future remarks about policy issues, following reports by a US diplomat of scathing remarks he made about the French and others during a business trip to Kyrgyzstan.

But he defended the prince: “He does a very good job. He does it voluntarily, he is not a government appointee ... he voluntarily goes around the world trying to help British companies promote exports and jobs in Britain. I value that. I’ve seen him in action and he does a very good job.”

Questioned about the prince’s remarks about the French, where he implied that corruption was the norm, Mr Cable said: “Yes, well I think those were made in jest. I think we’ve all in the past cracked jokes that have been misinterpreted and he’s no exception.”