Clegg on Chilcot: Blair and Brown must not escape Iraq inquiry spotlight

The man charged with heading the inquiry into the UK’s decision to go to war with Iraq, Sir John Chilcot, has today held a press conferenece to explain the timescales and the process under which it will operate:

The “huge job” of going through vast amounts of material and evidence means the Iraq inquiry could continue into 2011 says chairman Sir John Chilcot.

Launching the inquiry he said it would be “as open as possible” with hearings televised and streamed online. But he said some hearings would be held in private for national security reasons or to allow “more candour”. Sir John said Tony Blair would be among those asked to give evidence and he did not expect anyone to refuse to do so.

There have been complaints that the inquiry, which will cover events from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, will not report back before the next general election.

Nick Clegg wrote to Sir john Chilcot last month setting out the Lib Dems’ wishes for the inquiry, and has reponded to today’s announcement:

It is essential that this inquiry has the teeth it needs to get the job done. The Government must not be able to interfere to keep Blair and Brown out of the spotlight for the sake of political convenience in the run-up to an election.

“Tony Blair ordered this disastrous war and Gordon Brown signed the cheques – without public appearances from them this inquiry will be seen as a whitewash. The inquiry must have access to high level legal advice, in particular a counsel to assist them in cross-questioning witnesses. This is important to ensure that as gifted a communicator as Blair is not allowed to slip off the hook.

“It is very disappointing that the chances of an interim report have been described as ‘unlikely’ – there is no reason that such a report could not be published before the election. Sir John’s assurance that evidence will be held in public ‘wherever possible’ is welcome. But where evidence is given in private, a genuine national security interest must be proven in each case. There is a strong case for televising hearings so the public can see that proceedings are as open as possible.”

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