'Unique' cabinet committee will monitor Anglo-American relations

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Indy Politics

A cabinet committee to monitor relations with the United States of America has been set up in the wake of the Iraq war and questions about the accuracy of intelligence.

A cabinet committee to monitor relations with the United States of America has been set up in the wake of the Iraq war and questions about the accuracy of intelligence.

The committee, which former ministers say is "unique", is being seen as an attempt to "rein in" Tony Blair and involve more members of the Government in decisions about joint UK-US ventures.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, will chair the new committee, which will also be attended by Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, and Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence. The Chief of the Defence Staff and the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, which oversees intelligence from M15 and M16, will also be invited to attend.

The body is one of several cabinet committees that meet in secret to discuss issues of high priority. But the UK/US relations committee is unique in that no other cabinet committee is devoted to relations with a single country.

Its establishment was being interpreted at Westminster yesterday as a "brake" on Tony Blair and a way for the Cabinet to ensure that other senior ministers are given full access to joint policies with the US President, George W Bush. There is concern within the Government that Mr Blair's relationship with Mr Bush is making the Government unpopular.

Peter Kilfoyle, a former Defence minister, said he was surprised by the creation of the committee and planned to put down questions in the Commons about its purpose.

"It is very odd and unique. I would love to know what its terms of reference are. It may be a way of making sure other people are brought in on the American agenda to ensure that some of the cock-ups that have happened don't occur in future," he said.

"This issue is the Achilles heel of the government. Sooner or later the Prime Minister has to wake up to the fact that he is the monkey and Bush is the organ grinder."

The official remit of the Ministerial Sub-Committee on Relations with the United States of America is to "review the Government's priorities and activities affecting UK/US relations". And defence and intelligence chiefs will be "invited to attend as necessary".

It is expected to focus on Iraq, the war against terror and issues such as Guantanamo Bay. But opposition MPs are furious that global warming has apparently been omitted from its remit, even though Tony Blair has said it is a priority and the Bush administration has refused to sign the Kyoto agreement on climate change.

Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for Environment, has been excluded from membership. But other ministers, with domestic agendas, including Peter Hain, the Leader of the House of Commons, will attend.

"The fact that Margaret Beckett will not attend shows yet again that Tony Blair is not as serious about climate change as he says he is," Norman Baker MP, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, said.

"The Government's chief scientist said that global warming is a bigger threat than terrorism. The membership of this committee underlines that the Prime Minister is taking one seriously and completely ignoring the other."

A government spokesman declined to comment on the reasons for the committee or comment its remit.