The long awaited Chilcot report into Britain’s role in the Iraq war – intended to be published at the end of 2012 – will now not be released until after the general election, government sources say.
Six years after the inquiry was established, and more than three years after it finished taking evidence, it has been again delayed as people criticised by the inquiry are given a chance to respond – a process known as “Maxwellisation”.
I cannot give give an accurate estimate for how long it will then take to complete our work… Sir John Chilcot
On Wednesday the chairman of the panel, Sir John Chilcot, set out his reasons for why the findings of the report can still not be made public in a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron.
“I can confirm that individuals are currently being given the opportunity to respond to provisional criticism of them in the inquiry’s draft report,” Sir John wrote.
“That is an essential and confidential process. It would not be appropiate for me to comment on it in detail.
“We intend to finish our work as soon as it is possible to do so whilst being fair to all those involved.
“Until we have received and evaluated responses from all those who have been given the opportunity to respond, I cannot give give an accurate estimate for how long it will then take to complete our work, but it is clear that it will take some further months.
“I therefore see no realistic prospect of delivering our report to you before the general election in 2015.”
Earlier this month the prime minister spoke of his “immense frustration” at the continuing delays, but he is understood to have written to Sir John saying that, while he would have liked to have seen the report published before the election, he accepts that publication is a matter for the inquiry.
However, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has also written to Sir John, saying the public will find the latest delay “incomprehensible”. He called on the inquiry to set out a “much clearer and more defined timetable” with strict deadlines and a firm date of publication.
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) January 21, 2015
He wrote: “Neither administrative processes nor a constant back and forth between the inquiry and witnesses criticised should frustrate an independent report so important to the country’s future from being published as soon as possible.
“If the findings are not published with a sense of immediacy, there is a real danger the public will assume the report is being ‘sexed down’ by individuals rebutting criticisms put to them by the inquiry, whether that is the case or not.
“The inquiry into Iraq will both resolve the issues of the past, and set the tone for future British foreign policy. We cannot wait any longer for these lessons to be learned.”
This is for the whole country to understand why we made a terrible mistake in Iraq. Simply putting it off is not good enough. David Davis
Publication of the report was previously promised “within months” of the end of the inquiry in 2011. It has been held up by a number of factors, including negotiations over the release of confidential messages between former prime minister Tony Blair and former US president George Bush.
There has also been delays over the need to declassify thousands of official papers.
Mr Blair has also been criticised by some for allegedly seeking to slow down the process – a claim he has strongly denied.
Last October ministers said that the report would have to be released before the end of February if it was not to impinge on the general election.
MPs are next week set to debate the delays in publication, and senior Tory backbencher David Davis, who was the driving force behind the staging of the debate, said the delays are “simply not good enough”.
“It is more than five years since it started,” he told The Guardian. “We need to know why. This is not simply some formality. This is for the whole country to understand why we made a terrible mistake in Iraq. Simply putting it off is not good enough.
“Why has this taken so long? What is going on that is preventing this? The report was created in the first place by a Labour government in order to get an understanding of what went wrong. I can think of no reason why this should be deferred.”