Scarlett must go, say MPs

Spy chief set to take over at MI6 will be criticised today over war intelligence
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Indy Politics

Tony Blair will face pressure today from MPs from all three main parties to block the promotion of John Scarlett to head of MI6 after the Butler inquiry publishes its report into intelligence failures in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Tony Blair will face pressure today from MPs from all three main parties to block the promotion of John Scarlett to head of MI6 after the Butler inquiry publishes its report into intelligence failures in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Mr Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), accepted "ownership" of the Government's 2002 dossier on Iraqi weapons, which included the false claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons of mass destruction "within 45 minutes" of an order to do so. His judgement is expected to be questioned by the five-month inquiry headed by Lord Butler of Brockwell, the former cabinet secretary.

Lord Butler will clear Mr Blair of deliberately misleading the nation about the intelligence on which he based his case for war. While the report does not question his integrity, it does criticise his informal way of taking decisions, with a lack of proper minutes and notice of meetings. It is likely to say that intelligence should never again be used in such an overtly political way.

In a Commons statement an hour after Lord Butler releases his report at a press conference, Mr Blair will promise to implement the recommendations. He is expected to admit mistakes were made in the run-up to the war and that lessons must be learnt for the use of intelligence in future. But he will refuse to say sorry for taking military action to remove Saddam. One government source who has read the Butler report told The Independent: "It's bad, but nowhere near as bad as the Senate inquiry into the US intelligence last week. There is criticism but we think we can get through this."

The Prime Minister will come under pressure from all sides today for promoting Mr Scarlett in May while the Butler committee was still conducting its inquiry.

In the United States, George Tenet, the director of the CIA, resigned over the intelligence failures on Iraq. Last night Labour MPs tabled a Commons motion condemning Mr Blair for his action. The motion "deplores the promotion of John Scarlett to head MI6" while the Butler inquiry was still under way. Jeremy Corbyn, one of the signatories, said: "The head of the CIA was forced to resign but Mr Blair has promoted John Scarlett. That is extraordinary."

Alice Mahon, another left-wing Labour MP, said: "When you see what happened to the head of the CIA, people will not understand why Mr Blair is promoting John Scarlett. It is a scandal."

Michael Ancram, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said: "The appointment of John Scarlett before the Butler report was published was completely inappropriate."

Sir Menzies Campbell, foreign affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said Mr Scarlett had allowed the JIC reports to be "politicised". He said: "There are three things that should never be allowed to happen again - the JIC reports should never again be published; the chairman of the JIC should never again be appointed from serving intelligence officers, however qualified; and the independence of the JIC from No 10 should never again be compromised."

The Prime Minister will resist demands for him to shelve the promotion of Mr Scarlett, who is due to become head of MI6 on 1 August. His official spokesman said Mr Scarlett continued to have the Prime Minister's "full confidence".

Whitehall sources admitted that Mr Scarlett would be in the firing line when the Butler report is published today. "It's going to be 'get Scarlett' day," said one. "The Prime Minister is determined to keep him. But a head of steam could build up that he shouldn't get the MI6 job."

The report, it is believed, will critically examine the roles of Sir Joe French, who was head of the Ministry of Defence's Defence Intelligence Service, and Joe Cragg, his deputy. They were both present at the final JIC meeting which signed off the September 2002 dossier.

Mr Blair's admission that mistakes were made will not satisfy his critics. In his strongest attack over Iraq, Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, said last night: "The only mandate this government had for war was winning a [Commons] vote where military force was specifically sanctioned to remove the elusive WMD. I don't expect Tony Blair will apologise; so perhaps he should admit he was wrong over his other errors. How else can we learn lessons for the future unless we acknowledge what went wrong?"

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