In a speech I sometimes give I say, half-jokingly, that the British government’s legendary “45 minutes till doom” claim over Iraqi WMD was “the equivalent of a journalist doing a front-page story on the basis of something their minicab driver heard down the pub. Except, of course, that no news story ever led to the deaths of 200,000 people.”
It was, as I say, a joke. But now, quite incredibly, it turns out that it might have been true. According to the Tory MP Adam Holloway, the information “originated from an emigre taxi driver on the Iraqi-Jordanian border, who had remembered an overheard conversation in the back of his cab a full two years earlier.”
Mr Holloway stated that an intelligence analyst had at the time flagged up – via a footnote – that the claims were “demonstrably untrue”.
“Despite this glaring factual inaccuracy… the report was characterised as reliable,” he said. Mr Holloway’s claim has not been denied by the Government.
Every time we think we have reached the “outer limits” (to use Lord Butler’s phrase) of the Government’s behaviour on Iraq, they come up with something new to surprise us.
As it happens, Sir John Scarlett, the man in charge of the dodgy dossier fiasco, was up before the Chilcot enquiry today. You might expect at least a note of shame, if not of abject humiliation. But Chilcot, with all the investigative ferocity we’ve come to expect from him, said that the taxi-driver claim was not a matter for Scarlett to answer on. And Scarlett was allowed to deploy his usual line that he had acted in “good faith” all along. So that’s all right, then!