The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee warns that a key lesson from the Chilcot Inquiry has yet to change anything.
The Chilcot report highlighted how Tony Blair disregarded established decision-making processes in the run up to the Iraq War, when, for example, he wrote to President Bush with the words, "We will be with you whatever". Today's PACAC report reiterates that new safeguards are still needed to prevent this happening again. In a follow-up to PACAC's 2016 report on the lessons still to be learned from the Chilcot Inquiry, the Committee argues that there is still little to prevent a future Prime Minister from bypassing proper Cabinet consultation again.
The Chilcot Inquiry found that there were many such lost opportunities for proper Cabinet discussion on British policy towards the Iraq War and the planning for its aftermath. This resulted in poor planning and decision making that contributed to the many failures of British policy in Iraq and the deaths that resulted.
PACAC concluded that although the Cabinet Secretary is personally responsible for making sure that scrutiny of important decisions happens in line with the rules in the Cabinet Manual, their only resort is to resign if a Prime Minister decides to ignore their advice. PACAC therefore recommends that the Cabinet Secretary should be able to ask the Prime Minister for a written ministerial direction to ignore the normal decision-making process, in the same way accounting officers can ask Ministers for a written direction if they want to ignore civil servants' advice on the proper use of public money.
Chair of PACAC Bernard Jenkin said:
"In 2002 Tony Blair promised George Bush that "I will be with you, whatever" committing the UK to war in Iraq without consulting the Foreign and Defence Secretaries, let alone the rest of the Cabinet. Fifteen years later there are still no safeguards in place within the Government to prevent a Prime Minister acting so recklessly again.
The present Prime Minister has assiduously used Cabinet and its Committees. PACAC also has great confidence in the current Cabinet Secretary and his commitment to effective decision-making. But this is no guarantee for the future. Its therefore a perfect time to introduce such a safeguard, when the system is working well, not to wait for another catastrophic failure.
Our proposal is modest, and has the support of many former senior Civil Servants. We expect the Government to consider it seriously."