|The Guardian today reports that the Foreign Office has lost its appeal against the decision by the Information Commissioner to disclose extracts of a telephone conversation that took place between then Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President George Bush, just days before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.|
The Information Tribunal in its ruling stated that the “circumstances surrounding a decision by a UK government to go to war with another country is always likely to be of very significant public interest, even more so with the consequences of this war."
From the Guardian:
“Extracts of a phone conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush a few days before the invasion of Iraq must be disclosed, a tribunal has ruled.
“The Foreign Office lost an appeal against an order by the information commissioner, Christopher Graham, to disclose records of the conversation between the two leaders on 12 March 2003. Graham's order was made in response to a freedom of information request by Stephen Plowden, a private individual who demanded disclosure of the entire record of the conversation.
“"Accountability for the decision to take military action against another country is paramount," Graham had said in his original order.
“Upholding that ruling on Monday, Judge John Angel, president of the information tribunal, said Foreign Office witnesses had downplayed the importance of a decision to go to war, a view the tribunal found "difficult to accept".
“The tribunal added: "Also in our view, particularly from the evidence in this case, the circumstances surrounding a decision by a UK government to go to war with another country is always likely to be of very significant public interest, even more so with the consequences of this war."
“It said parts of the phone call between Blair and Bush recording what the former British prime minister said must be disclosed. The two men are believed to have discussed UN resolutions on Iraq and a television interview given by Jacques Chirac, then French president, on 10 March 2003. Blair repeatedly blamed Chirac for the failure to get a second UN security council resolution backing an invasion of Iraq.
“Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, claimed in evidence to the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war that Chirac made it clear France would not back a fresh UN resolution "whatever the circumstances".
“The issue is important because the Blair government claimed Chirac's interview killed off all hope of a diplomatic solution. Straw's claims were contradicted by Sir John Holmes, then UK ambassador to France. He told Chilcot that Chirac's words were "clearly ambiguous". One interpretation, Holmes said, was that Chirac was simply warning that France would veto a fresh UN resolution at that time as UN weapons inspectors had not been given a proper chance to do their job.
“Angus Lapsley, a Foreign Office official responsible for US-UK relations, argued against disclosure on the grounds that Britain had "a uniquely close and privileged relationship with the US". He added that there was "no comparator" in terms of the "breadth and depth" of the UK's relationship with the US, which was vital to Britain's national interests.”
The claims made against disclosing ‘sensitive’ information, on account of the potential to strain UK - US special relationship, is one that has been used before by officials. In 2010, the FCO lost an appeal to withhold documents relating to the British government’s complicity in the mistreatment and torture of Binyam Mohamed by US agents. At the time, the Foreign Office argued that such disclosures were a threat to US-UK intelligence-sharing arrangements and thus a threat to the UK’s national security. More recently, the Government has used the argument of the special relationship to support its proposals to extend the mandate for secret trials.
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