Why I have no faith in the Chilcot inquiry on Iraq

Five reasons to be cynical

1) Chilcot himself. Is this "establishment" man really going to get to the bottom of how we ended up in Iraq? Can someone who acted as a "staff counsellor" to MI6 between 1999 to 2004 be a credible investigator of the flawed intelligence produced on Iraqi WMDs, by MI6, between 2002 and 2003? Will an ex-permanent secretary at the Northern Ireland Office be able to challenge ministers or his former colleagues in the civil service?

Sir John Chilcot also happens to be a former member of the 2004 Butler inquiry into Iraq intelligence, which failed to land any significant blows. Here is how Philippe Sands, QC describes Chilcot after watching him closely during the Butler inquiry: "Having some familiarity with Sir John's questioning . . . it is not immediately apparent that he will have the backbone to take on former government ministers."

Sands has also referred to the occasion when the Butler committee took evidence from the former attorney general Lord Goldsmith on 5 May 2004:

The uncorrected transcript shows some members of the inquiry pressing him hard. By contrast, Sir John's spoon-fed questions give every impression of being designed to elicit a response from the attorney general that would demonstrate the reasonableness of his actions and those of the government.

2) Recent history. Do you remember the last time an "independent" inquiry revealed the whole "truth" about this or that government misdemeanour or cover-up? Critics of the war had high hopes for every single one of the four previous Iraq inquiries (Hutton, Butler, ISC, FASC) -- and each time their hopes were dashed.

Twas ever thus. As James Callaghan put it after the Franks report of 1983 effectively exonerated Margaret Thatcher over the Falklands:

For 338 paragraphs he painted a splendid picture, delineated the light and the shade, and the glowing colours in it, and when Franks got to paragraph 339 he got fed up with the canvas he was painting, and chucked a bucket of whitewash over it.

3) The composition of the committee. How can you have faith in Sir Roderic Lyne, another establishment man, former senior civil servant and British ambassador to (anti-war) Russia during the Iraq war? As the Labour MP Lynne Jones pointed out in the Commons in June:

He [Lyne] was a special adviser to BP, which currently has major interests in Iraq. Regardless of whether that represents a conflict of interests, it does not help public confidence given the concern that we went to war for oil.

And, as my colleague George has pointed out, "the fact 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." Indeed.

4) The media. Journalists, especially lobby correspondents, on both sides of the Atlantic, have been too quick to swallow the government line on Iraq, have "moved on" at the first sign of "Iraq fatigue" by their readers or viewers, and much prefer to discuss who is up and who is down in the Westminster village or inside the Beltway than to discuss Iraqi politics, intelligence issues or the effects of western foreign policy in the Middle East.

Take Peter Ricketts, former JIC chair and ex-political director at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Ricketts is testifying this morning in front of the Chilcot inquiry. But how many journalists have reported on the leaked "confidential and personal" memo that Ricketts sent to his then boss, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, in March 2002?

In it, Ricketts wrote that "by sharing Bush's broad objective the Prime Minister can help shape how [Iraq policy] is defined" and conceded that "what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programmes . . . even the best survey of Iraq's WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile or CW/BW fronts". Here it is, in all its glory, on the excellent Downing Street Memo(s) website.

5) Teflon Tony. The truth about Iraq -- the lies, cover-ups, war crimes, torture, etc -- has never seemed to stick to Tony Blair. Had the British government got its way last week, and the Germans caved, Blair would be enjoying his first full week as president of Europe at the same time as the Iraq inquiry kicked off. It would have been, to borrow a phrase from Bliar himself, "palpably absurd".

Oh, and by now, you will have worked out that I disagree with George on Chilcot and am happy, for once, to include myself in the "green ink brigade" to which he refers. I hope to be proved wrong. But, given these five things, I doubt it.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Brexit could destroy our NHS – and it would be the government's own fault

Without EU citizens, the health service will be short of 20,000 nurses in a decade.

Aneurin Bevan once said: "Illness is neither an indulgence for which people have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a misfortune, the cost of which should be shared by the community."

And so, in 1948, the National Health Service was established. But today, the service itself seems to be on life support and stumbling towards a final and fatal collapse.

It is no secret that for years the NHS has been neglected and underfunded by the government. But Brexit is doing the NHS no favours either.

In addition to the promise of £350m to our NHS every week, Brexit campaigners shamefully portrayed immigrants, in many ways, as as a burden. This is quite simply not the case, as statistics have shown how Britain has benefited quite significantly from mass EU migration. The NHS, again, profited from large swathes of European recruitment.

We are already suffering an overwhelming downturn in staffing applications from EU/EAA countries due to the uncertainty that Brexit is already causing. If the migration of nurses from EEA countries stopped completely, the Department of Health predicts the UK would have a shortage of 20,000 nurses by 2025/26. Some hospitals have significantly larger numbers of EU workers than others, such as Royal Brompton in London, where one in five workers is from the EU/EAA. How will this be accounted for? 

Britain’s solid pharmaceutical industry – which plays an integral part in the NHS and our everyday lives – is also at risk from Brexit.

London is the current home of the highly prized EU regulatory body, the European Medicine Agency, which was won by John Major in 1994 after the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty.

The EMA is tasked with ensuring that all medicines available on the EU market are safe, effective and of high quality. The UK’s relationship with the EMA is unquestionably vital to the functioning of the NHS.

As well as delivering 900 highly skilled jobs of its own, the EMA is associated with 1,299 QPPV’s (qualified person for pharmacovigilance). Various subcontractors, research organisations and drug companies have settled in London to be close to the regulatory process.

The government may not be able to prevent the removal of the EMA, but it is entirely in its power to retain EU medical staff. 

Yet Theresa May has failed to reassure EU citizens, with her offer to them falling short of continuation of rights. Is it any wonder that 47 per cent of highly skilled workers from the EU are considering leaving the UK in the next five years?

During the election, May failed to declare how she plans to increase the number of future homegrown nurses or how she will protect our current brilliant crop of European nurses – amounting to around 30,000 roles.

A compromise in the form of an EFTA arrangement would lessen the damage Brexit is going to cause to every single facet of our NHS. Yet the government's rhetoric going into the election was "no deal is better than a bad deal". 

Whatever is negotiated with the EU over the coming years, the NHS faces an uncertain and perilous future. The government needs to act now, before the larger inevitable disruptions of Brexit kick in, if it is to restore stability and efficiency to the health service.

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