In a reply to the Chairman’s letter stating he could not yet ‘give a realistic timetable for completion’, Cameron bemoaned the lack of urgency in publishing the final conclusions, reminding Sir Chilcot of his duty to provide answers for the families of servicemen who were killed in the Iraq war.
Originally intending to report in 2011, the Chilcot Inquiry was established in 2009 with the remit of conducting a thorough investigation into the UK’s Government’s involvement in the ‘run-up to the conflict...the military action, and its aftermath’, to identify what lessons could be learnt.
The inquiry soon ran into controversy, however, because of a convoluted declassification process that required the Inquiry and the Cabinet Office to agree on requests for the publication of official documents.
In January 2010, the Cabinet Office denied the right to quote from correspondence between Tony Blair and George Bush, despite the fact it was deemed to have a significant impact on the outcome of the proceedings. Only after lengthy discussions lasting 13 months did the Cabinet Office finally agree to publish a redacted copy of the exchanges.
In his letter to the Prime Minister, Sir Chilcot also said the ‘Maxwellisation’ process, whereby a person who is criticised must be given a chance to answer them, had ‘opened up new issues’. In their defence, respondents were referring to material that had not been originally submitted to the inquiry, which in turn meant further official documents had to be declassified. It is currently understood that about 40 politicians, military figures and civil servants face criticism.
Cameron’s increasingly harsh language is likely to be interpreted as a final warning to Sir Chilcot to publish the inquiries findings. In October 2014 he stated that he would like to see the report published ‘well before the forthcoming election’.
The Prime Minister is also facing increasing pressure from MPs to scrap the six-year investigation, costing £10 million. Lord Morris of Aberavon, a former Labour Attorney General, has asked the Prime Minister to assess ‘the case for discharging the Chairman and members of the Chilcot inquiry, and inviting the Cabinet Secretary to set out a mechanism for an interim report to be produced on the basis of the evidence gathered’.
With the Chilcot inquiry in danger of lasting as long as the Iraq war itself, Cameron must act with a sense of immediacy to restore public confidence. With limited recourse to force the independent inquiry to act, however, increasingly bellicose language is one way to pressure Chilcot to ‘get on with it’.