National Archive secrets: whatever happened to the 30-year rule?

The latest release of secret papers spans more than one decade, as John Rentoul explains

Friday 29 December 2023 20:30
<p>Alastair Campbell with Tony Blair leaving Downing Street  </p>

Alastair Campbell with Tony Blair leaving Downing Street

There is nothing new in politics. Twenty years ago, Tony Blair was demanding “radical measures” to deter asylum seekers, and considering options such as detention camps on Scottish islands or the Falklands, processing centres abroad (including in Africa), and repudiating the European Convention on Human Rights.

Of course, there are two big differences today. One is that Blair didn’t go ahead with any of these, whereas the current government got as far as putting people on a plane intended for Rwanda before the courts intervened. The other is that the Rwanda plan is not to allow for the offshore processing of claims for asylum in the UK, but for the processing by Rwanda of claims for asylum in Rwanda.

Other controversies still echo today. “The Marbles could be a powerful bargaining chip in IOC vote-building for a 2012 Olympic bid,” Sarah Hunter, a special adviser, wrote to Blair in April 2003. She explained an ingenious compromise by which the British Museum would lend the Parthenon Sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles, to Greece. Twenty years later, the loan scheme is still being discussed, but in the meantime, London won the Olympics, presumably with the help of Greece’s vote.

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