Officials 'changed'guidelines on exports

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The Independent Online
EXPORT guidelines restricting sales of defence equipment to Iran and Iraq were changed by Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence officials 'as they went along', Paul Channon, the former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, said yesterday.

Ministers and officials were challenging guidelines shortly after they were publicly announced in Parliament by the former Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe.

Trade officials thought Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence objections to exports were 'old womanish' and stemmed from fear of political embarrassment, the Scott inquiry was told.

Mr Channon, a trade minister between 1983 and 1986 and Secretary of State in 1986-1987, said the DTI was concerned that the tightening of restrictions on arms sales to Iran and Iraq in 1984 would have long-term effects on civil exports. He resisted Foreign Office attempts to stop all exports to Iran and Iraq when official guidelines were drawn up in December 1984.

Mr Channon said the Foreign Office and MoD still blocked exports by British firms to either country. 'I think they were changing the rules as they went along. They were interpreting the guidelines in a way that had not been envisaged.'

Asked if he had also wanted to change the guidelines, Mr Channon said: 'It was me alone against the world. There was no point in putting my head against the axe.'

The Scott inquiry is investigating claims of collusion between ministers and civil servants in defence exports to Iraq which breached official guidelines and export controls.

The hearing was adjourned until Monday.