Clegg on Iraq inquiry: "nothing short of a fully public inquiry – held in the open – will satisfy soldiers' families."

by Stephen Tall on June 15, 2009

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced there will be a private inquiry into the Labour Government’s decision to go to war with Iraq. Beginning in July and reporting some time in 2010, the inquiry will cover the period July 2001 to July 2009 and be chaired by Sir John Chilcot.

Here’s Nick Clegg’s response to the Prime Minister’s statement:

I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and join him in paying tribute to our brave service men and women who have served our country in Iraq over the last six years.
And in particular to the 179 who have lost their lives. They and their families are in our thoughts today.
I passionately believe we were wrong to invade Iraq but I am second to none in my admiration for the bravery and dedication of our service men and women.
Everyone knows that the invasion of Iraq was the biggest foreign policy mistake this country has made in generations; the single most controversial decision taken by government since Suez.
So Mr Speaker, I am staggered that the Prime Minister is today seeking to compound that error, fatal for so many of Britain’s sons and daughters, by covering up the path that led to it.
Liberal Democrats have called for an inquiry into the build-up and conduct of the Iraq war for many years, and we can be grateful that finally, the Prime Minister has acceded to that demand.
But, as so often, he has taken a step in the right direction but missed the fundamental point. A secret inquiry will not deliver what Britain needs.
Does the Prime Minister not understand that the purpose of an inquiry is not just to produce a set of dry conclusions, but to allow the people of Britain to come to terms with a mistake made in our name? To allow veterans, and the families and friends of those who gave their lives in this disastrous war, to come to understand how it happened?
I have met the families of these soldiers.
And just an hour ago I was asked to speak in their name and tell you that nothing short of a fully public inquiry – held in the open – will satisfy them.
Will the Prime Minister not listen to what they need?
He says it the inquiry has to be in private to protect national security.
But it looks suspiciously like he wants to protect his reputation and that of his predecessor, not Britain. Why else would he want it to report after the general election?
It is perfectly possible to have particular sensitive sessions in camera while retaining the fundamental principle that this inquiry should be open to all.
I am grateful that he has listened to my representations and extended the inquiry to cover the origins of the war.
And to give it full access to the documents and files it will need.
But I am disappointed he made such a feeble attempt to secure consensus on the panel that will conduct the inquiry.
The experience of successfully established inquiries like the one being held in the Netherlands shows that consensus can be secured if the government conducts painstaking consultation.
Why did the Prime Minister not even attempt that sort of constructive discussion?
The Government must not be allowed to close the book on this war as it opened it: in secrecy.
Last week he stood there and spoke eloquently about the need for more public accountability and transparency.
This was his first test.
He has failed. He chose secrecy instead.
For six years, we have watched our brave service men and women putting their lives on the line for a war we did not support and cannot understand.
To rebuild public trust, the inquiry must be held in public.
Will the Prime Minister, even now, reconsider?
Will he make this inquiry a healing process or will he continue to deny the British people’s legitimate demands?