Diplomat fights back in row over memoirs

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The row over Sir Christopher Meyer's memoirs is set to escalate dramatically today as Britain's former ambassador to Washington accuses politicians of "double standards".

Jack Straw has questioned whether Sir Christopher can continue as chairman of the Press Complaints Commission. He called the book a "completely unacceptable" breach of trust.

Lord Butler, the former Cabinet Secretary, joined the chorus of complaint against the ex-ambassador yesterday, saying the book could threaten the relationship between ministers and civil servants.

But Sir Christopher robustly defends his decision to publish his account of the run-up to war in Iraq. In an interview with The Independent on Sunday he says politicians write about officials while they are expected to remain mute.

"So much of this is double standards - and somewhere out there is the public right to know," says the former ambassador, who believes Tony Blair failed to make the most of his influence with President Bush in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

"There seems to be no bar on politicians writing books that cover areas in which they are dealing with civil servants. Yet civil servants are supposed to take a vow of indefinite silence."

Sir Christopher rejects the charge that the book has undermined his ability to police newspapers' ethical standards. He says he would "stand back" from any complaint brought to the PCC by someone he has criticised if they thought they wouldn't get a "fair whack".

The former diplomat is to give the serialisation fee for DC Confidential (an estimated £290,000) to charity. But he intends to keep any royalties. He denies planning to write an inside account of the workings of the press watchdog and says that even if he wanted to, there is not the "raw material".

He also discloses his contract as chairman of the PCC was renewed for three years just over a week before The Guardian and Daily Mail began publishing extracts. Those extracts - including the now infamous description of cabinet members as "political pygmies" - have incensed politicians from all parties.

None more so than Mr Straw, whom Sir Christopher hardly mentions in his account of the discussions between Britain and the US about Iraq. He suggests that it is this that has driven the Foreign Secretary "bonkers".

"Even when we were moving into troubled waters first with Afghanistan and then Iraq, personally I just didn't find myself dealing with the Foreign Office. The strategic conversations, the big conversations were all with Downing Street - that's just the way that it came out."

A spokesman for the PCC said the watchdog had not, so far, received a complaint relating to the chairman's memoirs.

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