Select Committee on Public Administration Written Evidence

Memorandum by Sir Jeremy Greenstock GCMG


  It might be helpful for the Committee at the start, though of no particular public interest, if I give a brief account of my approach to writing a book on my experiences on Iraq and set out some of the steps and timings relevant to seeking clearance from the Foreign Office.

  The idea of writing something on the United Nations arose when it looked likely that I would have a gap between retiring from the Diplomatic Service at the end of July 2003 and taking up the position of Director of the Ditchley Foundation, which was set for August 2004. My wife and I had decided to travel and relax in the intervening year, but also test what flowed from the pen in recounting some of our career experiences. I particularly wanted to describe what it was like to work at the UN, since so few people seem to understand how that organisation works on the inside. By May 2003 we had made provisional arrangements to spend a few months in France and then in South Africa up to the spring of 2004, but I was a long way from taking a decision to publish anything.

  Those plans were knocked on the head when in June 2003 I was asked to serve in Baghdad as UK Special Representative from September 2003 to March 2004. That timing was agreed personally with the Prime Minister and, contrary to some misplaced reporting in the media, I was never asked to extend it. The experience in Baghdad increased the motivation to write, both because I felt the subject-matter was of cardinal importance to UK interests and because the public debate seemed to me to be under-informed and distorted. Over the late summer of 2004 I consulted and then appointed a book agent and, during the autumn, began to sketch out a framework and synopsis. In mid-October 2004 I asked the Foreign Office to send me the text of Diplomatic Service guidance on the publishing of memoirs by retired members of the Service. That served as a form of notice that I was considering writing, while also conveying the (correct) impression that I intended to seek clearance of anything I wrote about my official work.

  I began writing in earnest in January 2005. In April, understanding that my interest in writing for the record might be misconstrued, I told my London publisher, Random House, that I would donate all personal proceeds from the book to a charity working in Iraq, and we agreed that this would appear on the book cover. On 19 April, when I had completed some two thirds of an initial draft text, I contacted the Office by e-mail to give specific notice that I would be submitting a text. Having agreed with my publishers by then that we should aim at a publication date of September 2005, this seemed to give plenty of time for an exchange with Whitehall on the details. The officer in charge of the FCO section handling clearance responded helpfully and said that the Office normally aimed to clear texts within a month or so. We agreed that I would send in groups of chapters as they emerged, even if they were unpolished drafts, to make work on them easier to organise. I submitted four of the six parts on 23 April and we both fully expected the process to be finished by June. The final two parts were submitted at the end of May.

  I received reasonable comments on the first four parts in June, and incorporated most of the amendments suggested. I was told that the last two parts, mostly comprising my account of the Baghdad months, would take a bit longer and might cause a few more headaches, but the tone of these exchanges, and of other conversations I had with colleagues in the system, were largely encouraging and sympathetic.

  At the end of June 2005 Sir Michael Jay informed me that the Foreign Secretary had just become aware that I was intending to write for publication and had expressed strong objections, though he had not read the text. I went in to see Mr Straw in early July and he confirmed his opposition to a book as a matter of principle. I said I would take account of what he had said, but would wish to finish the clearance process.

  At that point I warned my publishers that publication might have to be delayed. They encouraged me to complete the process. The FCO, however, went silent for the next two and a half months. Speculation in the media as to what was going on, mixed in with comment on the other books attracting public interest, was fairly constant throughout this period, though it was usually inaccurate on my situation. In early October I finally received a further set of comments from the FCO, but was told that even the rather more comprehensive amendments they had proposed would need to be cleared by Ministers. Given the heightened public focus on the whole area, I decided that it might be wiser to go for a longer-term postponement.

  I therefore agreed with my publishers in London and New York that publication should be delayed sine die. Part-advances received were returned in full. Contrary to the impression gained, as I have read, by some members of the Select Committee, the final decision was mine and the relationship with the publishers has not been broken. It remains my decision whether to return to the book in the future.

  These are the basic facts. I am happy to discuss further details if the Committee has questions.

January 2006

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