PM accused of 'muzzling' Iraq inquiry

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown has been accused of “muzzling” the Iraq inquiry after refusing to alter rules that allow Government departments to withhold crucial documents from the public.

Concerns over the agreement were raised by the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, during Prime Minister’s Questions last week. But in a letter written to Mr Clegg, seen by The Independent, Mr Brown has ruled out any changes to an agreement that effectively gives Whitehall the final say over which documents it will release.

The protocol agreed between the inquiry team and the Government lists nine areas in which departments can veto the publication of documents handed to the investigation. Any disagreements between Sir John Chilcot, the chairman of the inquiry, and the Government will be resolved by the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell.

“In establishing the inquiry, I wanted to make sure that it had access to all Government papers, irrespective of how sensitive or secret they might be,” Mr Brown stated. However, he confirmed that the inquiry team was under no obligation to publish documents along with its report next year. “The inquiry is independent and that is a decision it will take in due course,” he said, adding that Sir Gus would continue to have the final word over disputed documents.

Mr Brown had already been pressured into promising that most of the inquiry would be heard in public after initially preferring private sessions. “Far from being a limit on the inquiry, the protocol is necessary to allow the inquiry full and unrestricted access to all Government information,” Mr Brown wrote. He told Mr Clegg the arrangements were “standard between inquiries and Government departments” and would not now be changed.

“This letter could have come straight out of an episode of Yes Minister,” Mr Clegg told the Independent. “It is incomprehensible to any normal person, fails to address the huge exemptions in the protocol which go far beyond issues of national security, and merely confirms that the Cabinet Secretary does have a veto over what information will be published by Sir John Chilcot and his inquiry.

“Once again Whitehall secrecy has triumphed. Gordon Brown is using the worst form of bureaucratic jargon to hide a simple truth: the Chilcot inquiry’s final report has been muzzled before it’s even been written.” He added: “Gordon Brown should have the decency to admit his promises of full independence and openness have already been broken.”