Finally, then, the Attorney-General's opinion of 7 March 2003 has been extracted from a most reluctant Government. Does it amount to a 'smoking gun', or is it just a damp squib, as Tony Blair claimed yesterday?
Attorneys General are not usually trained in international law. For this reason, the Foreign Office has lawyers who are experts in this, and at least one is seconded to the AG's office to advise him. We know (from the resignation letter of Elizabeth Wilmshurst, deputy legal adviser at the FO), and the opinion now confirms, that Lord Goldsmith originally shared the specialists' grave doubts about the legality of the war. We also know he had been pressed by US government lawyers to change his original view..
The opinion of 7 March looks much like that of a lawyer already straining to the utmost to support a course of action about which he entertains grave doubts, but on which his client is set. He canvasses the arguments on both sides; but the best he can say is that a 'reasonable argument' can be made in favour of going to war.
But he is sitting on the fence. If he was strongly of the view that the war was legal, he would have said so. (In this context, it is relevant to note that most qualified international lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic were always clear that the war would be illegal without a further Security Council resolution.) There seems little doubt that if the Cabinet, let alone …