As the Telegraph reports today, Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, is blocking the publication of correspondence between George W Bush and Tony Blair ahead of the Iraq War, together with later correspondence between Gordon Brown and Mr Bush – thus effectively stalling the already heavily delayed Iraq Inquiry.
No security issues are at stake. The blocking of the correspondence between Downing Street and the White House is an affront to democracy and prevents us from forming a judgment about the most disastrous war in recent British history. Sir Jeremy Heywood should now be removed from all decisions relating to the Iraq Inquiry, because he was himself deeply involved in the flawed government process in the run-up to and after the invasion of Iraq.
Sir Jeremy was appointed Tony Blair’s principal private secretary in 1999. Within a short space of time (as his senior colleagues have told me in detail) he became an intrinsic part of the collapse of the process of government which took place after 1997.
As Sir Robin Butler graphically described, the principles of sound, accountable administration were abandoned and replaced by “sofa government”. Decisions were made informally by a small coterie including Blair, Alastair Campbell, Jonathan Powell and Anji Hunter. Sir Jeremy was the only civil servant who was granted full access to the sofa.
The sloppiness of this new Downing Street machinery became manifest in the summer of 2003 when the Hutton Inquiry into the death of David Kelly tried to reconstruct the process which led to the release of the name of the MOD scientist in national newspapers. Lord Hutton learnt that four meetings, all involving senior officials and cabinet ministers, each chaired by the prime minister, took place in Downing Street to discuss Dr Kelly in the 48 hours before his name was released. In an amazing breach of normal Whitehall procedures, not one of these meetings was minuted at the time.
In the normal course of events it should have been the job of the principal private secretary to the prime minister – ie Jeremy Heywood – to draw up these minutes. Yet he did not do so.
This episode shows that Sir Jeremy Heywood is much too implicated in these matters to be permitted to make decisions of deep sensitivity concerning the White House/Downing Street correspondence.
David Cameron must now urgently intervene to strip Sir Jeremy of his role, and take control of the decision himself. If he fails to do this, the Prime Minister himself risks becoming complicit in what now looks more and more like a giant cover-up involving elements of the British establishment and political class to prevent the truth becoming known about how we became involved in the Iraq War.