Blair ‘Misled MPs on Legality of War’ Law Chief Who Advised ex-PM Tells Iraq Inquiry
By Tim Shipman and Ian Drury
January 18, 2011 “Daily Mail” – -Tony Blair misled Parliament and the public about the legality of the Iraq War, according to explosive documents released last night.
Former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said the then prime minister’s claims that Britain did not need a UN resolution explicitly authorising force were not compatible with his legal advice.
In testimony to the Chilcot Inquiry, made public for the first time yesterday, Lord Goldsmith said Mr Blair based his case for invasion on grounds that ‘did not have any application in international law’.
He said he felt ‘uncomfortable’ about the way Mr Blair ignored his legal rulings when making the case to Parliament.
Asked whether ‘the Prime Minister’s words were compatible with the advice you had given him’, he replied: ‘No.’
The shattering testimony is a watershed moment for the Iraq Inquiry, as it is the first time that Lord Goldsmith has directly contradicted Mr Blair. The claims will form the centrepiece of Mr Blair’s second grilling by the inquiry on Friday.
The written questions and answers from Lord Goldsmith’s second testimony to the inquiry, released yesterday, detail how the Attorney General was frozen out of government decision-making over the drafting of Resolution 1441, which he eventually used to justify the war after months of pressure from Mr Blair and his closest aides.
The UK and U.S. tried to get a second UN resolution explicitly justifying an invasion but abandoned the effort when France threatened to veto their plans in the UN Security Council.
In the months before the 2003 war Mr Blair repeatedly claimed that he did not need a second resolution if another country decided to issue an ‘unreasonable veto’.
But in his evidence Lord Goldsmith reveals that he had explicitly told Mr Blair that such claims were nonsense when they met to discuss the legality of war on October 22, 2002.
Lord Goldsmith says his advice ‘must have been understood by the Prime Minister’. Yet on January 15, 2003, Mr Blair told the Commons ‘there are circumstances in which a UN resolution is not necessary’.
On February 6 he repeated the claim on the BBC’s Newsnight programme.
Lord Goldsmith admitted that when he heard Mr Blair’s statements: ‘I was uncomfortable about them and I discussed my concerns with [then Foreign Secretary] Jack Straw.’
Reg Keys, whose military policeman son Tom was killed in Iraq, said of Mr Blair: ‘This was not lying to Parliament to push through a minor bill, it was to start a war. That’s tantamount to criminal and it’s high time this man was called to account.’
Mr Blair’s spokesman said: ‘Tony Blair will deal with all these issues in his evidence on Friday. The issue of the so-called unreasonable veto was not the basis on which Britain took part in the military action.
‘What Peter Goldsmith’s statement does is make it categorically clear that there was a proper legal basis for the military action taken.’
MI6 was plotting the toppling of Saddam Hussein nearly 18 months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, secret papers revealed last night.
Sir Richard Dearlove, the then head of the spy service, sent three documents to Mr Blair’s top foreign policy adviser Sir David Manning on the issue in December 2001, one of which set out ‘a route map for regime change very openly’.
The Iraq Inquiry’s release of Sir David’s evidence, given behind closed doors last May, sheds light on the earliest-known discussions on the matter among Mr Blair’s inner circle.