24 June 2009

The Iraq inquiry: Chilcot clears up Brown’s cock up

The Guardian reports this morning that Blair and Brown will be summoned to to give evidence to the Iraq inquiry, which will now be held mainly in public.  As the paper says:

The move to open up his hearings, which came on the eve of a Commons debate on the inquiry, shows that a wholesale change of the terms has been carried out since the inquiry was established by the prime minister last week.

Other changes announced:

• Expert assessors, including retired senior military officers, public and constitutional law experts and experts on post-war reconstruction, will support the five members of the inquiry. These experts could cross-examine witnesses.

• Chilcot has indicated that he remains open to the idea of publishing an interim report, according to Clegg. The Lib Dems and Tories want an interim report to be published before the general election. Chilcot, whose inquiry is not due to report until July 2010, is expected to be highly cautious about publishing on the eve of the election.

• Witnesses will not, as expected, be required to swear an oath. But Clegg says Chilcot has indicated that he will specify to witnesses in writing and verbally that their evidence must be truthful.

In a further embarrassment for Brown, Chilcot has indicated that the membership of inquiry team was too narrow, implying that further changes could well be on the way.

Presumably one of the consequences of the inquiry being held in public is that it will now take longer.  Chilcot, rightly, will not wish his inquiry to become a political football in the run up to an election if it is held next year.  It matters little if the inquiry's report is delayed by several months.  What does matter is that Chilcot is credible, authoritative and, moreover, believed by the public.

Cameron should highlight the way Brown has totally mismanaged the setting up of this inquiry at PMQs.  He has more own goals to aim at than he could ever hope for.

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