Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300 - 319)



  Q300  Grant Shapps: Never?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: The possibility is never.

  Chairman: In that case, the fridge may not be the right place for it!

  Grant Shapps: It will go off.

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: Indeed.

  Q301  Grant Shapps: To continue your metaphor, by saying it is in the fridge and not the freezer, you are saying there is no thawing time required, you can bring this out and publish it very quickly. Does that mean you have actually completed the book?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: I had completed the book in   July. The original publication date was the beginning of September, so by the middle of July the publishers would have had to have a final text to have copies on the bookstands by the end of August. We can go into the uninteresting detail of why I stopped at that precise moment, but you have to either proceed or cut at the point when the publishers had to go to press. If I return to the book, I would have to update it; it was set at a particular time with events in Iraq having reached a certain point, and there is a certain amount of comment at the end about what the whole saga of Iraq means which would have to be updated, so some fresh writing would be necessary.

  Q302  Grant Shapps: You now have a book which is complete, though will need a bit of updating, sitting in your fridge at home, and presumably you are going through some kind of internal conflict as to whether this should ever be put in the public domain at all. On the one hand you appeared to be about to say to me, "Actually I could publish this very quickly, which is why it is in the fridge and not the freezer", but on the other hand you are telling me it may never be published. Is this because of an internal conflict for you or just because you genuinely do not know or because you fear political pressure? Why?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: I just have not decided. Having been through the intensive business of getting these words on the page, revising them endlessly with my publisher on the one hand, with the Foreign Office on the other, pulling in different directions, it is all quite an intensive experience. When you stop that, the whole thing goes off the boil in your mind. I am sorry about all these culinary metaphors. It remains off the boil. I do not know whether I can regenerate the energy to return to it.

  Q303  Grant Shapps: Does this feel like an unfinished project to you?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: No. It feels like something I have been through and finished and it would be a considerable effort to return to it. This is perhaps a clearer answer about where it stands at the moment. It would need a lot of energy to return to, but having spent the time on it that I have, it would be a pity to waste it altogether, and the bulk of what is there is usable.

  Q304  Grant Shapps: Have you read DC Confidential?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: Yes, I have.

  Q305  Grant Shapps: If you were to rate your text alongside, is this more or less sensational? Are you somewhat aggrieved that Sir Christopher Meyer managed to slip his book out and you have been stopped? How does it make you feel?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: I am not thinking in terms of comparisons.

  Q306  Grant Shapps: You are the only man who has read both, are you not, so you are the only person we can ask?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: Together with a few people who have been through my text. After all, quite a lot of the Foreign Office has read both, and the Cabinet Office.

  Q307  Grant Shapps: Though not the Foreign Secretary.

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: He may have done by now, I do not know. He may not have read DC Confidential.

  Chairman: I think he has.

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: The two books are different. I am dealing with a much narrower and deeper area. I am talking about a saga of foreign policy as it evolved—a foreign policy story, if you like—whereas Christopher is representing an experience over a number of years. I am not going to offer any adjectives about it or comparisons, they are different books.

  Q308  Grant Shapps: Are you saying yours is a more serious, in-depth book?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: I have not said that. I think Christopher has made a lot of serious points and has been very enlightening about what it is like to be ambassador in the United States, but I am seeking to explain a narrower and deeper range of events.

  Q309  Grant Shapps: So the Foreign Office objection to your book is more based on the serious nature of the content than, as I think we suspect with Sir Christopher Meyer's, it was the tittle-tattle which made his unpalatable to the current administration?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: I have not entered into the realm of value judgments of people in public officer and their performance. I am though trying to explain why things happened, how things happened, what happened to some extent in the background, while not revealing confidences and secrets which may not be revealed. So a very careful judgment has to be made about how you can explain things when you cannot say everything that does explain them. It was necessary in my view to have a discussion, almost a negotiation, with the Foreign Office about where those rather fine lines were to be drawn, and I think I sensed in the Foreign Office a dichotomy of feeling, that they actually saw the point of having an explanation of this kind of how a very controversial piece of foreign policy was enacted, yet on the other hand they did not want facts to emerge which might affect the continuing diplomacy on Iraq. Where was the balance? Would Iraq policy from the UK interest point of view benefit from the deeper explanation or be damaged by the revelation of certain things that happened which have not yet come into the public domain?

  Q310  Grant Shapps: I am interested in whether you think the Radcliffe rules et cetera and the Foreign Office rules have in your case worked or not worked when it comes to publishing your memoirs?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: In my case I think so far they have worked. I have no argument with them. In re-reading Radcliffe, it seems to me to remain an eminently sensible report, and before you ask me the follow-up question, Mr Shapps, or anybody else, I think it did not work in the case of Christopher Meyer. That is my view.

  Q311  Julie Morgan: You have touched on this already but you said earlier in your evidence that you thought Iraq was different, and I wonder if you could explain why you thought Iraq was different and why this would justify writing your book?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: Iraq is an issue above all in this decade, or these few years which we are considering as an issue in which the foreign policy of the United Kingdom, the interests of the United Kingdom, have been very intimately engaged, which connects with most other areas of foreign policy: with politics in the Middle East and particularly the Gulf Region; with relationships with the United States, with the role of the superpower; with the role and capacities of the United Nations and what the United Nations can and cannot achieve in the area of international peace and security; with particular relationships that the United Kingdom has with others; with oil; with weapons of mass destruction and proliferation; all sorts of issues in a very complex way, which has changed the character, evolved the character, of almost all these issues. The interrelationship between those different things and the way in which we continue to look at them and act on them is an extremely important part of British foreign policy and British interests. It seemed to me what I had read up to the point I started writing on Iraq did not bring out some of the underlying truths of what had happened, and the distortions in what was being said, particularly in the media, were capable of distorting also the lines through to those other areas. So I felt there was a public interest in having the deeper explanation of what happened, so that the debate on all these things could be better informed.

  Q312  Julie Morgan: So your own contribution to that debate, which you would like to have made, you saw as actually influencing events which were still evolving?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: That was not the reason that I wrote.

  Q313  Julie Morgan: But that would have been the effect?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: What I was not trying to do was to write a comprehensive treatise on the whole business, a whole history if you like, of the whole thing. I really wanted to set down some of my experience on Iraq so that others, particularly historians at some stage but also people commenting contemporaneously, would have a better understanding of those bits on which I could say some things and make some comments. I was not writing in order to change anything or to influence policy.

  Q314  Julie Morgan: But do you not think that if you had written, if it had been published, it would have influenced our view of what happened in Iraq, which is still an on-going saga?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: Only marginally. Come on, it is just one civil servant in a huge team in a whole international arena. It would have been interesting for a short period of time and then people would have moved on. Look at the books which have come out in the United States with very considerable explanation, revelation, of what went on, the latest of which is Ambassador Paul Bremer's own account of his stewardship in Baghdad. Each of those books on their own probably would not have affected people's attitudes towards the policy decisions which were taken and the performance of the leaders who took them, if taken singly. Cumulatively, as we get from those books a deeper understanding of all the things which happened, people's minds do change about what happened and about the sense of the decisions which were taken. So I was writing as a contribution to a whole series of comments on the Iraq war. But I was aware that there were probably very few, if not no other, senior British government servants writing on that issue and therefore I would need to be careful about my position in that respect.

  Q315  Julie Morgan: I suppose because your proposed publication produced such a sharp response from the Foreign Secretary in particular, it is easy for us to imagine there were things in your book which would change our view of events more than you are saying at the moment. What you are saying is what you were going to write you do not think would have made that much difference to our overall view of the conflict but would have added to the understanding of contemporary historians?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: I do not know, you will have to ask the Foreign Secretary why he reacted as he did. I think the news of Meyer and Greenstock hit him in the same week and he rather lumped them together and thought the dam was breaking, so I think there were particularities in his reaction. You would have to ask him.

  Q316  Julie Morgan: So you do not think there was anything in what you were proposing to publish which would have caused major problems if it had been published?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: For whom? For the Government?

  Q317  Julie Morgan: For the Government, yes.

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: No, I do not. I really do not think it would have caused major problems for the Government. I think in net terms it would have been the converse.

  Q318  Julie Morgan: I noticed you said earlier in your evidence it was more favourable to the Government than not.

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: Mistakes were made over Iraq and part of the whole point in writing about it is, in the public interest, the lessons to be learned from the true story rather than from assumed facts or distortions of the facts. We also have not mentioned, and we maybe will get on to it in further discussion, I think there is a value in some transparency about these things to the public interest. To answer your question, I believe that in explaining why decisions were taken rationally it would have been more difficult for careless accusations to be made against the Government of irrational decision making.

  Q319  Julie Morgan: So do you think finally that the Foreign Secretary did overreact to your book?

  Sir Jeremy Greenstock: I am not describing his reaction in any particular way. He had his point of view and that point of view had to be respected.

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