The Cabinet Was Deceived.And Parliament ... and the Public. Now Goldsmith Must Do the Decent Thing

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), May 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Cabinet Was Deceived.And Parliament ... and the Public. Now Goldsmith Must Do the Decent Thing


Byline: PHILIPPE SANDS QC

THE Mail on Sunday's disclosure last week of the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith's legal advice to Tony Blair transformed the Election campaign. The Government had battled to keep the advice secret, realising it would prove that the Prime Minister had misled the Cabinet, MPs and the nation. Today, leading international lawyer Philippe Sands steps up the pressure on Lord Goldsmith, saying that he may be forced to resign unless he can explain how and why he changed his mind so suddenly.

THE publication of the Attorney General's full legal advice of March 7, 2003, destroys the Prime Minister's claim that he had clear and unequivocal legal backing for the war in Iraq.

It also confirms Mr Blair's willingness to treat legal advice much like the raw intelligence on WMD, stripping out any unhelpful material.

It is now apparent that by April 2002, nearly a year before British troops were sent into action in Iraq, the Prime Minister was committed to removing Saddam Hussein from power. But he knew that regime change was contrary to international law.

Foreign Office lawyers had told him that he would need explicit UN support to use force against Saddam. In July 2002, Lord Goldsmith was directed to sort out the legal issues. In November 2002, UN Resolution 1441 gave Saddam one last chance to comply with his disarmament obligations.

Even after Resolution 1441, the Foreign Office lawyers, including Elizabeth Wilmshurst, who later resigned over the matter, maintained their position: a second UN resolution was needed. Jack Straw disagreed, so the issue went to the Attorney General.

He is thought to have agreed with the Foreign Office lawyers, until he went to America in February 2003.

However, after last week's disclosure of his legal advice, we can see that US lawyers did not persuade him completely.

His 13-page advice of March 7 was careful and balanced but it was equivocal and did not provide a green light for war. It was not a sufficient basis for military action.

However, just ten days later, on March 17, Lord Goldsmith made available to the Cabinet a truncated 'view' of just 337 words that appeared to give clear and unequivocal legal support for war. It was published as an answer to a parliamentary question.

We now know that the advice of March 7 and the answer to the parliamentary question of March 17 reflected very different views. No QC I have heard from this week - including several who supported the war - understands how he could have changed his mind so dramatically in so short a time.

First, he warned that the Government could well lose in court if it went to war without a second resolution. Ten days later he said the war was plainly lawful. One QC has characterised the difference as 'absolutely devastating'.

So what happened in those ten days?

A crucial meeting took place at Downing Street on March 13, the implications of which were first described in my book Lawless World. The meeting was attended by Lord Goldsmith, as well as Lord Falconer and Baroness Morgan, two of Mr Blair's most senior advisers. …

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