Interview with Stephen Plowden for Radio Radicale

Interview with Stephen Plowden for Radio Radicale

Matteo Angioli
Membro del Consiglio Generale del Partito Radicale
Wed, 11/14/2012

Stephen Plowden: As is widely known, Tony Blair lied to the British people and to Parliament about what the French were saying in order to persuade us to back his war in Iraq. I knew this at the time because when he talked in Parliament about what Chirac had said, back in March 2003, I rang up the French embassy and got the text of Chirac's speech, and so I knew that Blair was misrepresenting him. What I didn't know, until the Chilcot Inquiry came along, was that almost immediately after Chirac's speech on TV, the French were in touch with the British saying "you've misunderstood this". Of course it was not a misunderstanding but a deliberate misrepresentation.

When I learnt about this, I got in touch with the Foreign Office under our Freedom of Information Act and said that I wanted to see these documents which were referred to in the Chilcot Inquiry, and the Foreign Office refused. Then you have to go back to the Foreign Office a second time and they refused for a second time. Then you go to a man called the Information Commissioner. So I did that, and shortly after that, almost all the documents that I asked for - which were contacts between Britain and France - were released, not because the Foreign Office had changed its mind and decided to be more open but simply because so much had come out already that there was no point in keeping it secret any longer. But one document had not been released and that was the record of the telephone conversation between President Bush and Mr. Blair in which apparently they agreed to lay the blame on the French, so I said I wanted to see this.

The Information Commissioner gave a rather funny judgement. He said the Foreign Office should disclose what Mr. Blair contributed  to this conversation but not what President Bush did. The Foreign Office didn't like this so - from the Information Commissioner you can appeal to a body called the Information Tribunal - the Foreign Office appealed saying "we don't want to disclose any of this". My appeal was saying "I want to see the whole thing, I want the whole thing to be disclosed", not just for me of course, but so that everyone can see it.

The tribunal upheld the original decision. Now the Foreign Office has got another chance. You can appeal to a slightly higher court, within the same tribunal, and you have to get permission to appeal and that's what they have done. They have applied for a permission to appeal to this higher court and I have to decide whether to oppose this application or to accept it. I would be very pleased for there to be another appeal if it meant that I could put  my arguments again, provided that the judgement could be delivered in time to help the Chilcot Inquiry, but I'm not sure it will be.

So that's where we stand, but the important thing is that the reason the Information Commissioner gave for not insisting that the whole document be revealed - the record of the telephone conversation - was that there was a short-term interest in finding out about how the war started but there was not a long-term interest. The long-term interest was keeping in with the Americans, because the Americans are our best ally and it was said that they'd be very annoyed if this conversation was revealed. But my argument is that disclosure is in our long-term interest as well, because a lot of people in the Foreign Office and elsewhere - some of the advisers - knew that Blair was lying about the French position and they didn't do anything about it. Whereas the people who might have been able to do something, namely the MPs, didn't know. They didn't have the facts. This seems to me to be a grave institutional weakness in the way Britain runs itself and I want to see this corrected. Therefore I want to find out, and the nation to find out, as much as we can about exactly what Bush and Blair cooked up together by way of excuse for blaming the French.

Matteo Angioli: We discussed about the delay of the Chilcot Inquiry in publishing its final report because of the friction between the Chilcot Inquiry, the Government and the Foreign Office on the declassification of several classified documents, in addition to the Maxwellisation process. What do you think of this?

I don't think they realised when they set their timetable just how much evidence they were going to hear and how much was going to come out. But well, it's now inevitable that they will be delayed. I certainly don't think they are going to whitewash anything, I think they are independent people, they are quite determined. My impression is they are shocked by what they have found and I suppose they have to go through this Maxwellisation process. My only fear is - and I suppose this is what the Foreign Office is trying to do - they are trying to delay the whole thing in order for people to lose interest, with other things coming along, with Afghanistan and so on and so forth. I don't think they'll be successful in that but of course it is possible that they will be.

So is the next appointment in January?

In January there's a hearing just to see whether the Foreign Office will be allowed to make this new appeal. If they are allowed then presumably the appeal will be heard later in the year. If I’m allowed to, I'll put my arguments again and hope I'll have better luck this time. If the Foreign Office’s application in January fails,my understanding is that the Foreign Office will then immediately have to reveal that part of this telephone conversation which the Information Commissioner originally told them to reveal

Are you going to attend this session?

I'm going to attend and I'd be very happy for the appeal to be allowed but only if the appeal could be held and the judgement delivered in time for Chilcot to make use of it, otherwise I'd prefer to have half than nothing.

Thank you very much Stephen


The interview on Radio Radicale (in Italian)

The interview on youtube (in English)