POLITICS

Chilcot Inquiry Delays Will Fuel Fears Report Is Being 'Sexed-Down', Nick Clegg Warns

20/01/2015 21:30 GMT | Updated 22/01/2015 04:59 GMT

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg claims the public will think the Iraq war inquiry is being "sexed down" if it is not published urgently, after it emerged that the landmark report won't be released until after the general election.

In a letter last night to the inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot, Clegg said the public would find the latest delay "incomprehensible".

He called on Sir John to set out "a much clearer and more defined timetable" with strict deadlines and a firm date for publication for the review of the controversial war in Iraq which began in 2003.

"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," he wrote.

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Blair's government was accused of "sexing up" the evidence

"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 remark echoed the infamous 2003 comment by BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan that the government 'sexed-up' its Iraq dossier to justify going to war.

"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."

The long-awaited inquiry has been delayed until after the May poll. Sir John is to detail his reasoning for this further delay in an exchange of letters with Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday, according to Government sources.

The inquiry was originally set up by the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2009 and took public evidence from its last witness in 2011.

According to the Press Association, Cameron has written to Chilcot saying that while he would have liked to have seen the report released before the election in May, he accepted that publication was a matter for the inquiry. Earlier this month at Prime Minister's Questions, Cameron spoke of his "immense frustration" at the continuing delays.

The disclosure that it will not now happen before polling day comes as MPs prepared to stage a Commons debate next week on the hold-ups. Senior Tory backbencher David Davis, who was the driving force behind the staging of the debate, said that it was "incomprehensible" that it would have to wait until the next parliament.

"Frankly this is 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.

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Chairman of the Iraq Inquiry Sir John Chilcot as the long-awaited Chilcot inquiry will not be published until after the general election in May

"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."

It became increasingly clear that the report was unlikely to be made public before the election after ministers disclosed last year that it would have to be released before the end of February if it was not to interfere in the electoral process.

Publication has been held up by wrangling over the release of confidential messages between Tony Blair and former US president George Bush and the so-called "Maxwellisation" process by which people who are criticised in the report are given the chance to respond.

Sir John finally accepted an agreement whereby he would publish the "gist" of the communications between Blair and Bush after the Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood blocked the publication of the full exchanges. However, the protracted dispute - and the need to declassify thousands of official papers - further delayed the start of the Maxwellisation process, putting back the eventual publication date.

Critics have pointed the finger at Blair - who is widely expected to be criticised in the report for seeking to slow down the process - a claim the former prime minister has strongly rejected.