Tony Blair’s most senior legal adviser will today be forced to explain why he ignored the advice from colleagues that the invasion of Iraq had no basis in law.
In its most explosive day of evidence to date, the Iraq inquiry heard that both Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General who gave his legal backing to the invasion, and Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary at the time, brushed aside the unwelcome verdicts of leading international lawyers within the Foreign Office.
Sir Michael Wood, the department's chief legal adviser, revealed yesterday that he believed the March 2003 invasion was “contrary to international law”. He said he considered resigning in the days before troops moved into Iraq after his deputy, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, quit in protest.
His evidence blew apart assertions made repeatedly by Mr Blair's ministers and advisers at the time of Ms Wilmshurst's resignation that her views were not shared by Sir Michael or other lawyers at the department.
“I considered that the use of force against Iraq in March 2003 was contrary to international law,” Sir Michael told the inquiry. “In my opinion, that use of force had not been authorised by the (UN) Security Council, and had no other basis in international law.”
Ms Wilmshurst, who was given a standing ovation after her evidence yesterday, said lawyers within the Foreign Office were “entirely of one view” that the invasion would need UN authorisation.
She said Mr Blair's team had treated legal clearance for launching the invasion as “simply an impediment that had to be got over”.
In a letter to Mr Straw on January 24, 2003, two months before the war, Sir Michael warned him: “I hope that there's no doubt in anyone's mind that without a further decision of the council, the United Kingdom cannot lawfully use force against Iraq.”
Mr Straw replied that international law was an “uncertain field”.