The trap the Iraq inquiry must avoid

The inquiry must not fall for the myth that "lack of planning" led to disaster in Iraq

The government's old nemesis Andrew Gilligan has returned to embarrass ministers over Iraq from his new perch at the Telegraph. The leaked documents he has obtained provide further evidence that British planning for an invasion began in early 2002 and that the plans "contained no detail once Baghdad had fallen".

As the first public hearings of the Iraq war inquiry get under way tomorrow, what can we expect them to achieve? Sir John Chilcot, the chairman of the inquiry, has already emphasised that he will not rule on the legality of the war, though many hoped he would.

Asked if the inquiry would provide definitive answers, he said: "Definitive is one sense, yes, but not definitive in the sense of a court verdict of legal or illegal. It is much closer to high policy decisions: was this a wise decision, was it well taken, was it founded on good advice and good information and analysis?"

I'm confident that Chilcot, a member of the quietly damning Butler inquiry, won't preside over an establishment whitewash. The biggest challenge for his inquiry will be to avoid perpetuating the myth that it was only a lack of planning and resources that led to disaster in Iraq. In truth, the war was doomed to failure from the day Tony Blair and George Bush convinced themselves that there was no alternative to military action.

It was always clear that Iraq would not tolerate another foreign occupation. There was no scenario under which an invasion of the country could ever have gone well.

But that the inquiry's members include Sir Lawrence Freedman, one of the architects of the doctrine of "liberal interventionism", and Sir Martin Gilbert, who once declared that Bush and Blair could "join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill", does not inspire confidence.

It will be up to the robustly independent Chilcot to ensure that their preference for regime change does not distort the conclusions of his investigation. A final reckoning over the single biggest foreign policy disaster since Suez is long overdue.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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After a year of chaos, MPs from all parties are trying to stop an extreme Brexit

The Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit.

One year ago today, I stood on Westminster Bridge as the sun rose over a changed country. By a narrow margin, on an unexpectedly high turnout, a majority of people in Britain had chosen to leave the EU. It wasn’t easy for those of us on the losing side – especially after such scaremongering from the leaders of the Leave campaign – but 23 June 2016 showed the power of a voting opportunity where every vote counted.

A year on from the vote, and the process is in chaos. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The Leave campaign deliberately never spelled out any detailed plan for Brexit, and senior figures fought internal battles over which model they preferred. One minute Britain would be like Norway, then we’d be like Canada – and then we’d be unique. After the vote Theresa May promised us a "Red, White and Blue Brexit" – and then her ministers kept threatening the EU with walking away with no deal at all which, in fairness, would be unique(ly) reckless. 

We now have our future being negotiated by a government who have just had their majority wiped out. More than half of voters opted for progressive parties at the last election – yet the people representing us in Brussels are the right-wing hardliners David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson.

Despite widespread opposition, the government has steadfastly refused to unilaterally guarantee EU citizens their rights. This week it has shown its disregard for the environment as it published a Queen’s Speech with no specific plans for environmental protection in the Brexit process either. 

Amid such chaos there is, however, a glimmer of hope. MPs from all parties are working together to stop an extreme Brexit. Labour’s position seems to be softening, and it looks likely that the Scottish Parliament will have a say on the final deal too. The Democratic Unionist Party is regressive in many ways, but there’s a good chance that the government relying on it will soften Brexit for Northern Ireland, at least because of the DUP's insistence on keeping the border with Ireland open. My amendments to the Queen’s speech to give full rights to EU nationals and create an Environmental Protection Act have cross-party support.

With such political instability here at home – and a growing sense among the public that people deserve a final say on any deal - it seems that everything is up for grabs. The government has no mandate for pushing ahead with an extreme Brexit. As the democratic reformers Unlock Democracy said in a recent report “The failure of any party to gain a majority in the recent election has made the need for an inclusive, consensus based working even more imperative.” The referendum should have been the start of a democratic process, not the end of one.

That’s why Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit, in order to ensure that voices from across the political spectrum are heard in the process. And it’s why we continue to push for a ratification referendum on the final deal negotiated by the government - we want the whole country to have the last word on this, not just the 650 MPs elected to the Parliament via an extremely unrepresentative electoral system.

No one predicted what would happen over the last year. From the referendum, to Theresa May’s disastrous leadership and a progressive majority at a general election. And no one knows exactly what will happen next. But what’s clear is that people across this country should be at the centre of the coming debate over our future – it can’t be stitched up behind closed doors by ministers without a mandate.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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