Ex-attorney general Lord Goldsmith: Tony Blair did not reflect legal advice on Iraq war
Published 18/01/2011 | 06:35
Tony Blair was placed under further pressure ahead of his second appearance before the Iraq Inquiry after his most senior legal adviser said last night that the former prime minister's public statements about the invasion contradicted the legal advice he had been given.
In a written statement to the Chilcot inquiry, Lord Goldsmith, the former attorney general, suggested Mr Blair's statements to Parliament about the legality of the invasion were not compatible with the advice handed to the prime minister. He said Mr Blair's statements made him "uncomfortable". He described how he was cut out of discussions over the drafting of the UN resolution used as cover for the invasion of March 2003. He said if he had been consulted, he would have seriously altered the wording of the resolution.
The revelations will intensify criticisms of Mr Blair, who will give further evidence on Friday. He will be asked about why he made definitive statements disputed by Lord Goldsmith.
It also suggests Mr Blair may have misled Parliament over the legality of the war. Lord Goldsmith called into question some of the arguments used by Mr Blair during a crucial speech to MPs on 15 January 2003, as he attempted to convince them of the need to deal with Saddam Hussein.
"There are circumstances in which a [UN] resolution is not necessary, because it is necessary to be able to say in circumstances where an unreasonable veto is put down that we would still act," he said during the speech.
Just a day before, Lord Goldsmith had told Mr Blair that the current UN resolution dealing with Saddam could not be used to justify an invasion.
Mr Blair later repeated his claim that Britain could act without another resolution, even if the French attempted to veto military action against Iraq. "If, however, a country were to issue a veto ... then I would consider action outside of that," he said during a Newsnight interview on 6 February.
Asked by the Chilcot inquiry whether "the Prime Minister's words were compatible with the advice" he had been given, Lord Goldsmith stated in his reply published yesterday: "No."
"I was uncomfortable with them, and I believe that I discussed my concerns with Jack Straw and my own staff," he replied. "I do not think there was any doubt about my view. I had been clear at the meeting with the Prime Minister on 22 October 2002.
"My concern was that we should not box ourselves in by the public statements that were made, and create a situation which might then have to be unravelled."
Sources have suggested that the reason for Mr Blair's recall to the inquiry is down to contradictions between his version of events and that of other key witnesses, including Lord Goldsmith and Sir John Scarlett, the former head of Britain's secret services. Sir John was the man who oversaw the government's key dossier on the case for toppling Saddam.
The new submission from Lord Goldsmith also reveals how he was cut out of the process of drafting UN Resolution 1441, which was ultimately used by the government to justify its participation in the invasion. He said that after revealing he did not believe an early draft of the resolution gave Britain legal cover to invade Iraq, during a meeting with Mr Blair in October 2002, he "was no longer consulted". Key telegrams from the US about the state of negotiations were not shown to him.
"My views were not sought in the period between my meeting with the Prime Minister on 22 October 2002 and my telephone call with Jack Straw on 7 November 2002, when the text of the resolution was all but agreed," he states. "During that period... important changes occurred."
He described how he was particularly concerned that the final version said Saddam's continuing breaches of UN orders would be reported back to the international body "for assessment", suggesting a further ruling from the UN was needed. He said the new words "caused me much difficulty".
"If I had been asked about those words I would have said that they were problematic and would have argued for their removal," he stated.
A spokesman for the former Prime Minister said last night: "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. The basis was that given in the Attorney General's advice which he has confirmed in the statement published today."
The new evidence
What Blair said: "We have said that a second UN resolution is preferable, because it is far better that the UN come together. We have also said that there are circumstances in which a UN resolution is not necessary, because it is necessary to be able to say in circumstances where an unreasonable veto is put down that we would still act."
Commons, 15 January 2003
* "If the inspectors do report that they can't do their work properly because Iraq is not co-operating there's no doubt under the terms of the existing UNSCR that that is a breach of the Resolution. In those circumstances there should be a further resolution. If, however, a country were to issue a veto, because there has to be unanimity amongst the permanent members of the Security Council ... then I would consider action outside of that."
Newsnight, 6 February 2003
What Goldsmith said: When asked by the Chilcot inquiry whether he considered Blair's words to be compatible with the advice he had given the PM
* Goldsmith: "No ... I was uncomfortable with them, and I believe that I discussed my concerns with Jack Straw and my own staff. I do not think there was any doubt about my view. I had been clear at the meeting with [Blair] on 22 October 2002."