Is No 10 running scared of Butler?

The report is expected to be unsparing in its criticism of Downing Street's dodgy dossiers, say Francis Elliott and Raymond Whitaker

Two weeks ago, at lunch with the Queen, Lord Butler let slip that he was spending almost every waking minute writing his report into the intelligence that led Britain into war with Iraq. Even within Windsor Castle's protective walls, the former cabinet secretary gave little further away about what it will say, however.

In the five months since Tony Blair was forced to concede a formal inquiry into intelligence failures, there have been only the briefest of glimpses of Lord Butler's team at work. But a source close to the inquiry provides the first real indication of what is lurking in the wings for Mr Blair. It will, he says, be unsparing in its criticism of the "interface" between Downing Street and the intelligence services.

Having been cleared by Lord Hutton of the claim that Downing Street deliberately inserted false intelligence into a dossier on Iraqi weapons, Mr Blair must have thought he had weathered the storm. When David Kay quit the Iraq Survey Group, saying no stockpiles of weapons had been found, the clamour in the US for a proper inquiry became impossible for President Bush to resist, however. And once Mr Bush had sold the pass, the Prime Minister had to follow suit.

Still, he tried to limit its potential damage. "It should not be a rerun of the Hutton inquiry," Mr Blair said at the time. "We have dealt with the so-called sexing up of the dossier through three inquiries now. We do not need another inquiry into that. We do not need, in my view, an inquiry into the political decision to go to war. That's the matter for Parliament, government and the country in the end, but it's important we learn the intelligence lessons."

Lord Butler, however, has interpreted his terms of reference more widely than Mr Blair wanted, in particular with regard to examining "any discrepancies between the intelligence gathered, evaluated and used by the Government before the conflict".

The review can hardly ignore the multitude of "discrepancies" between how the claim that Iraq could deploy WMD within 45 minutes, for example, was "gathered, evaluated and used" in the September dossier authored by John Scarlett, head of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC).

One witness has told The Independent on Sunday that he expects the report to be particularly critical of how it was that Mr Blair came to think that the 45-minute claim related to Iraqi missiles instead of battlefield munitions. As this newspaper reported, a JIC assessment passed to Mr Blair shortly before the war was explicit in stating that the claim related to munitions, not missiles.

The review team is also known to be focusing on the dossier's claim that Saddam Hussein had tried to secure uranium from Africa. The intelligence services still insist they have credible evidence to back up the claim, referring to a visit to Niger by an Iraqi diplomat in 1999. But the diplomat told the IoS he had not been sent on a uranium-buying mission.

Lord Butler and his team have met senior intelligence officials in Washington, and are also said to have quizzed French and German officials about what intelligence they received and why they were so sceptical of British claims over Iraqi WMD.

What will be Downing Street's reaction to the report? Unlike with the Hutton inquiry, Mr Blair is likely to know its contents at least a week in advance, since it is a report to him, not an independent judicial inquiry. He will have plenty of time to prepare what is being dubbed a "non-apology apology".

"The vibes coming out of No 10 are that in some ways they welcome the opportunity to admit that they got some things wrong and that they have learned the lessons," said one senior figure.

A host of measures prepared in case Lord Hutton issued a critical report have been readied for the Butler report. Options include the JIC being chaired by a Foreign Office civil servant, as it was in the past, rather than by a member of the intelligence agencies.

More rigorous cabinet oversight of intelligence assessments is likely, as is a return to formal note-taking. Mr Blair's informal, unminuted "sofa diplomacy", revealed during the Hutton inquiry, is reported to have appalled Whitehall traditionalists.

Sir Andrew Turnbull, the Cabinet Secretary, has already told civil servants to keep more minutes, according to Professor Peter Hennessy, the leading expert on Whitehall.

Tony Blair

Said it should not be a 'rerun of the Hutton inquiry' but will be dismayed to learn that Butler is focusing on the Iraq 2002 dossier. Faces renewed questions about why he believed the 45-minute claim related to missiles, not battlefield munitions

Alastair Campbell

The other side of the 'interface' between Downing Street and the intelligence services. His triumphalism following the Hutton report is unlikely to be repeated next week

John Scarlett

The man who authored the September dossier and now incoming head of MI6. Lord Hutton said that he may have 'subconsciously' been influenced by No 10. Lord Butler may be more blunt

Lord Butler

Is said to be determined to avoid the charge that he has conducted a 'whitewash'. The head of a five-strong team is believed to have finished his report. It is expected to criticise the use of intelligence in the September 2002 dossier

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders