Military chiefs gagged over Chilcot
Ben Farmer, Telegraph, Jul 10 2016
Downing Street gagged military chiefs from responding to the findings of the Chilcot Inquiry and prevented them from issuing their own views to soldiers, sailors and airmen, it has been disclosed. Interviews with chiefs were forbidden, while Downing Street gave them “agreed top lines” to pass down to troops according to communications orders seen by the Telegraph. Defence sources said there were “real worries” about the impact on morale in the Armed Forces of the damning conclusions, but the muzzling of military leaders had appeared to create a “leadership vacuum” in the wake of the report. The military and Ministry of Defence faced some of the fiercest criticism from Sir John Chilcot’s seven year inquiry. His 12-volume report tore into the planning, preparation and resourcing of the military campaign that left 179 personnel dead, and declared that it ended “a very long way from success.” One source said:
There are real worries about the impact of the report on morale among soldiers who served in Iraq. There appears to be a leadership vacuum in the armed forces in the aftermath of Chilcot.
An internal communications plan issued on the eve of the report dictated that Downing Street “retain control of Government and the [MOD’s] handling [of response to Chilcot] and lines to take.” It also said there would be “Cabinet Office agreed top lines” for “Chiefs to then cascade down the chain of command.” Sir John found planning for the campaign was “wholly inadequate” and the military was too slow to provide suitable armoured vehicles against deadly roadside bombs. The military was left humiliated in Basra, releasing detainees so that insurgents would stop targeting troops. Another defence source said:
The senior policy civil servants in MoD main building and the top leadership in the Army took the report very badly, it really laid into the way they do business, their corporate ethos and reputations. The standing of the MoD in Whitehall, Parliament and the country took a big hit and senior people really feel that. Even those who are not criticised directly, feel the whole organisation has been accused of failing.
Another source said:
It came as a real surprise to people in the MoD that the report was so blunt and left no room for doubt that military had failed to achieve their objectives in Iraq. This is not the way official reports usually work.
A Government spox said:
It is standard practice for responses to reports of this nature to be co-ordinated across Government. That is what happened in this case, with departments including the Ministry of Defence leading on issues relevant to them and Cabinet Office pulling them all together.