The Chilcot Inquiry seems to be getting near the truth about the lead-up to the Iraq War (nearly 8 years on after the event), but there are certain profound constitutional questions which even it may not answer, perhaps not even raise. The most profound is: how should the State hold to account a Prime Minister whose performance and decision-making in matters of supreme national interest fall far short of the honesty and integrity expected of any holder of such high office? A classic question but in terms of power the most important question of all – who will guard the guardians? It has arisen now because the full extent to which Blair played fast and loose with the truth, with Parliament and with his colleagues is at last becoming unambiguously clear.
We now know that Peter Goldsmith, the Attorney General, despite the fact that his professional view was crucial, was excluded from the decision-making process for months because his judgement about the need for a second UN Resolution didn’t fit either with Blair’s determination to proceed or with his prior commitment to Bush to support the US invasion. We now know too that when Chilcot sought to make available to the public record the assurances that Blair gave to Bush, it was blocked by the Cabinet Secretary after consulting Blair himself. We also know about Blair’s ‘dodgy dossier’ dressed up and exaggerated to justify a decision to go to war taken on wholly different (secret) grounds, about his cmmitments to parliament squarely falsified by later evidence, and his claim repeatedly thrown about to evade further inquiry up to the very eve of war that no decision had yet been taken.
What should be the constitutional reaction to concealment, subterfuge and lies at the very point in the power structure on which a democratic State relies for honesty, truth and transparency? It has already been agreed in retrospect that no decision to go to war shall be taken in future without the full rationale being presented for debate and vote in Parliament well before the time that events had made it inevitable. But that is limited to war situations – albeit that they are of course the most grave and momentous of all – but the question of proper accountability of the Prime Minister goes wider than that. Blair’s behaviour in running what his own office dubbed a ‘Napoleonic regime’, beyond check either by a cowed Cabinet or by a supine Parliament, makes the case forcibly for a constitutional innovation – an elected President, with carefully prescribed powers but not beholden to the government of the day, with the right and authority to call the Prime Minister publicly to account where the latter has manifestly acted in a manner contrary to the highest standards of honesty and integrity that form the foundation of any properly functioning democratic State.