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UK PM's Spokesman's Briefing - 3rd July

PRESS BRIEFING: 3.45PM THURSDAY 3 JULY 2003

BBC/IRAQ

Asked if the memo printed in the Guardian contained Alastair's personal amendments or all amendments including the Prime Minister's, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that they were Alastair Campbell's personal presentational suggestions. As we had already said, the leak had not come from us.

Asked if Downing Street was accepting that the House of Commons had been misled on the issue of the second dossier as Michael Ancram had alleged in the Commons this afternoon the PMOS said he had not heard Mr. Ancram's comments but no he had not. The Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) was looking at these issues. Alastair Campbell had been very clear to the Committee as to how this mistake had been made. If you went back to his evidence there was a clear explanation of how the work by Dr Al Marashi ended up being included in the briefing paper which was subsequently issued. As we had said on many occasions that mistake had only come to light when it was pointed out to us by the media some weeks later. We had also been through in some detail the fact the intelligence included in that second briefing paper was cleared for use by the intelligence service and provided by the intelligence services. We had also been clear that given mistakes were made, which we had acknowledged and apologised for, it was entirely appropriate that different procedures should be put in place. What had happened in respect of the inclusion of Dr Al Marashi's work unfortunate though it had been, did not in anyway invalidate the intelligence that was inside that document and which had been presented to the House.

Asked if it was fair to say that the Government's position was that the Commons had been misled by the Prime Minister inadvertently the PMOS said that the essential point was that the Prime Minister had said that he had been putting new intelligence before the House which was indeed true. He said he did not have the Hansard to hand. When the section was read to him he said he thought it proved his point. There was new intelligence in that document which was provided by the intelligence services for release and authorised for release by them. We had been absolutely clear about that and Alastair Campbell spelt out in some detail to the Committee the sort of areas where the new intelligence had been used in that briefing paper, for example the staging of car crashes. The PMOS repeated that we had acknowledged that mistakes had been made in respect of this briefing paper. We had been absolutely clear about how they had happened. All the changes that had subsequently been made to the document were made in good faith, by people thinking they were working on a 100% Government document. They had been made to enhance the document's accuracy. As soon as it came to light that a mistake had been made we had put our hands up and put new systems in place. It was perfectly legitimate to ask questions about that, although we thought most of them had been answered, but it was now 36 days since the BBC first broadcast its story with claims about the Government inserting the 45-minute claim contrary to the wishes of the intelligence services, knowing it to be wrong. The BBC was still unable to answer the simple question. Were those allegations true or not?

Asked if Ben Bradshaw had commented on this story at the behest of Downing Street in the middle of the night the PMOS said that as was said this morning despite attempts to make this story all about Alastair Campbell this was about the integrity of the Prime Minister and the integrity of the Government. The gravest charge that could be made against the Government in our view was that we deliberately misused intelligence to make the case to Parliament stronger than it actually was. We had denied that within one hour of those allegations being broadcast. It was perfectly right that when the integrity of the Government was called into question - and he remembered that some newspapers had printed headlines saying "liars" repeating the allegations underneath - Government Ministers and Government Officials should be engaged in defending the integrity of the Government. Asked if it was a Downing Street initiative the PMOS said that collectively the Government felt extremely strongly about this issue and with good reason because the integrity of the Prime Minister, the Government and the intelligence services had been called into question through these false allegations. If Ministers were out there arguing the case robustly people should not be surprised given the gravity of the charges that had been levelled against us. Asked why the Press Association had been informed of Ben Bradshaw's comments at 1am the PMOS said that was 24 hour news for you.

Asked whether the briefing document had been published as a Downing Street briefing or an Intelligence briefing the PMOS said that it had been made clear there was new intelligence in the document and that was what had made it new and interesting. It had been a briefing paper on the Iraqi programme of concealment. Asked if that new intelligence had been identified the PMOS said that Alastair Campbell had gone through that point at the FAC hearing. What had actually been reported on its release - and there hadn't been a huge amount - did focus on the new intelligence. He underlined that we had never sought to compare the September dossier and the February briefing paper. They had been of a totally different order and if journalists were being fair they would acknowledge that. The first had had huge coverage, the second very little. Indeed he would wager those who had been well over 100 times the coverage for the process of the briefing paper than the contents. In answer to questions he said we had put our hands up and acknowledged the mistake as soon as it was drawn to our attention, it was perfectly possible to stand by your staff - and for senior management that was an honourable thing to do in his book - but also to admit that mistakes had been made.

Asked if the report to be published on Monday had come up in Cabinet, the PMOS said it hadn't.

Asked if anyone at Downing Street had had any contact in the last 24 hours with Nicholas Soames the PMOS said pass. He was a former Conservative Defence Minister, not a Government Minister and he was, he felt journalists would agree, a fairly independent voice. It was of rather more interest he thought, that he said what he said having spoken to the Head of SIS. Put to him that he might have been put up to it, the PMOS said that if that were so then clearly our reach was somewhat greater than he had ever thought.

ENDS

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