Leading Article: Britain's private foreign policy

Share
Related Topics
Guerrilla warfare around the Scott inquiry now looks set to continue throughout the summer. An unknown sniper clearly targeted William Waldegrave by leaking allegations that the former Foreign Office minister misled MPs over secret government approval of arms sales to Saddam Hussein. Then yesterday Lord Howe duly aimed his bazooka at Sir Richard Scott, unfairly accusing him of poking his judicial nose into political matters in which judges have no competence.

Mr Waldegrave survived for now, though wounded, and Sir Richard probably only briefly wobbled as he cycled to his office to continue work on his explosive report. But this latest exchange is just the beginning of a bloody and attritional conflict, prior to the report's publication, that will do little good for the Government and less for the cause of clearing up this scandal.

The question of whether Mr Waldegrave deceived MPs with his All Souls' casuistry is almost a side show compared with the really big question: did members of the Cabinet connive to send innocent men to jail? Did they improperly prevent the presentation of official papers in the trial of Matrix Churchill executives, which would have shown that the men were supplying arms to Iraq quite legally, with the full knowledge of the intelligence services.

This is the issue that most threatens to embarrass ministers. We can therefore expect Sir Richard's preliminary conclusions on the evidence to leak out as soon as they begin to circulate to those accused. And these leaks will be the occasion for the likes of Lord Howe to direct their guns against Sir Richard in an effort to discredit him.

All this should be good sport, promising to enliven an otherwise dull summer. But it does little to help most people to decide the rights and wrongs of this confusing and complex scandal. What we need is the full report, published quickly, open to analysis and criticism, so that heads, if necessary, can roll and lessons be learnt.

In part, Sir Richard is responsible for the delay, through no greater fault than his own conscientiousness. He has been scrupulous in letting everyone he proposes to attack have a preview of his comments, so that they can petition for revisions. Mr Waldegrave will understandably be making use of this facility in an attempt to save his own political career.

Whitehall, however, has abused Sir Richard's sense of fair play by swamping him at a very late stage with tons of paper, much of it of little consequence, but some of it of such importance that it should have been submitted at the start of the inquiry. As a result, Sir Richard is repeatedly forced to delay his report, live with the leaks and quietly tolerate repeated broadsides.

It is time that he took the initiative and set strict deadlines on the submission both of new documents and comments on his draft reports. Then he and his colleagues should get their heads down and produce the final report with the utmost speed. Of course, injured parties will pick holes in it, perhaps even force a judicial review. But the public would be able at last to take an informed view, and we could begin to reform a system that allowed the Government to run a private foreign policy.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam