Govt decision needed on Iraq war minutes

By Alex Stevenson

The government has until the end of the day to respond to the information tribunal’s demand that it release Cabinet minutes relating to the Iraq war in 2003.

Four weeks ago today the tribunal judged the public interest lay in disclosure rather than maintaining the confidentiality of the formal minutes of meetings on March 13th and March 17th 2003, in the run-up to the invasion.

Issues central to the decision to oust Saddam Hussein from Iraq were discussed at the meetings and many campaigners believe their publication would shed new light on the government’s efforts to persuade Labour MPs of the dangers Saddam posed.

The minutes must be published today unless Cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell decides to take the case to the court of appeal.

The case could then go to the House of Lords. Even then Gordon Brown could use an unprecedented ministerial veto over a freedom of information request to block their release into the public domain.

The government is concerned the publication of such minutes could prevent ministers having frank discussions in the future.

Growing calls for an inquiry into the Iraq war have added weight to the tribunal’s arguments, however. These backed an earlier judgment by information commissioner Richard Thomas.

All that is known about the minutes at present is that Robin Cook and Clare Short were the only ministers present in the meetings who showed dissent. Both subsequently resigned from the government over the Iraq issue.

The Commons will hear a statement on the Freedom of Information Act 2000 at 15:30 GMT. A Ministry of Justice spokesperson was unable to confirm whether the statement related to the tribunal’s demands.