Another fine mess

August 25, 2011

Last week we reported that the DfID minister, Alan Duncan, had accused Israel in a video of a "land grab" through the erection of the security wall and of stealing Palestinian water - accusations which were described by Foreign Office officials as being an accurate statement of government policy.

It was difficult to imagine how the government could make things worse, but it managed to find a way. On Tuesday, the JC was told by the Foreign Office that a 'clarification' would be issued, making clear that Mr Duncan's tone, if not the basic thrust of his statement, was inappropriate. We are still waiting for it.

Mr Duncan was certainly humiliated, being forced to take down the video from the DfID website. But his words - every dot and comma, it seems - still stand, because the Foreign Office now says it has nothing to add to a DfID statement on Wednesday which suggested that "some elements [of Mr Duncan's remarks] were misinterpreted".
This is sophistry. His words were unambiguous and reported verbatim. Rather, what happened is that having been dug into a hole last week by officials who backed Mr Duncan's stance, ministers decided this week to dig still deeper - one day forcing Mr Duncan to remove his video and announcing that they would clarify (Whitehall-speak for contradict) his words, the next day refusing after all to clarify anything. If ever there were an omnishambles, this is it.

Last updated: 11:56am, August 25 2011