Waldegrave accused of hiding relaxation of Iraq trade curbs

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The Independent Online
WILLIAM WALDEGRAVE, former Foreign Office minister and the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, misled Parliament about the export of defence equipment to Iraq, the Scott inquiry heard yesterday.

Sir Geoffrey Howe, the former Foreign Secretary, and Lord Glenarthur also failed to give truthful answers to peers, MPs and the public about new guidelines relaxing curbs on military exports to Baghdad.

MPs, peers and members of the public who questioned the Government's policy were given 'dishonest' answers and 'untruths', according to a civil servant who drafted many ministerial replies. Other Foreign Office departments asking for information about export policy to Iraq were also deceived, according to Mark Higson, a former Iraq desk officer in the Foreign Office Middle East department.

Mr Higson claimed 'dishonest' answers were given out to avoid revealing publicly that Britain had relaxed strict export guidelines to Iraq. Within two weeks of becoming Iraq desk officer in March 1989 he learnt that ministers had decided that guidelines announced by Sir Geoffrey in 1984, limiting defence exports to Iran and Iraq, should be relaxed in the wake of the ceasefire between those countries in August 1988.

Shortly afterwards, Mr Waldegrave, Alan Clark, then trade and industry minister, and Lord Trefgarne, then a defence minister, decided that the export guidelines on Iraq should be relaxed to enable British firms to win reconstruction contracts.

A handwritten note by Mr Waldegrave, read out at the inquiry said: 'I doubt if there is any future market of such a scale anywhere where the UK is potentially so well placed if we play our diplomatic hand correctly, nor can I think of any major market where the importance of diplomacy is so great on our commercial position. We must not allow it to go to the French, Germans, Japanese, Koreans, etcetera.'

Mr Waldegrave said Iraq should get 'high priority in our policy . . . in commercial terms comparable to South Africa in my view.' Iraq was seen as the 'big prize' Mr Higson said.

Mr Higson said public perception of both regimes was that they were as 'vile as each other'. The Foreign Office was getting tens of thousands of letters over 'gassing of Kurds and political prisoners'. 'It would have been unacceptable because of the public and parliamentary reaction to have announced the fact we were relaxing a policy in favour of Iraq,' he said.

To avoid domestic criticism, MPs, peers and members of the public who asked questions about government policy were deliberately misled to believe the stricter 1984 guidelines were still in force and no change of policy had occurred. People were told the truth only on a 'need to know' basis.

(Photograph omitted)