Crucial warnings Blair kept from MPs
• Leaked document shows information given to Blair on eve of war
• Lord Goldsmith's advice very different from case presented to MPs
• Damage likely to further rouse anti-war vote
"The Prime Minister has always said the British people must make the final judgment on this matter. Millions certainly will on 5 May." - CHARLES KENNEDY
Story in full TONY Blair suffered a devastating blow last night as it emerged that the legal advice he had been given before the Iraq war bore little resemblance to the summary he presented to parliament.
Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, warned Mr Blair he could not bypass the United Nations simply because France threatened to veto a move to war. A court "might well conclude" that war was illegal.
Yet there was no hint of this in the summary of the advice shown to the Cabinet and published - exposing Mr Blair to the charge that he misled both parliament and the public.
The revelation could alter the course of the election campaign - marshalling an anti-Blair vote and bolstering his opponents’ case that he lied on the eve of war.
After more than two years of claim and counter-claim over the legal advice which Lord Goldsmith gave to Mr Blair on 7 March 2003 - a fortnight before the Iraq war - the document was finally leaked last night.
Channel Four News released an 800-word extract which proves that Lord Goldsmith, the government’s top legal adviser, warned that it was impossible for him to make a watertight case for war.
While a "reasonable case" could be put together for the Iraq war, the Prime Minister was warned, it is far from clear it would stand up to scrutiny.
Political parties seized on the document last night but Lord Goldsmith rushed out a statement insisting that the war had been lawful and that the leaked document "stands up the case the Government has been making all along."
Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats, called for an inquiry and said voters will decide the matter at the polling booth. "The Prime Minister has always said the British people must make the final judgment on this matter. Millions certainly will on 5 May."
The extracts released last night were from the 13-page legal memo shown to Mr Blair but never seen by the Cabinet - in an apparent breach of official code. At the time of its preparation, the UN had passed Resolution 1441 warning Saddam Hussein to disarm - but had not authorised the use of force.
The Prime Minister wanted to know whether it was legal to invade Iraq without a second UN resolution. That additional resolution would have authorised force if Saddam had refused to surrender weapons of mass destruction that he is now known not to have possessed.
The leaked document shows Lord Goldsmith warning the legal effect of Resolution 1441 was "unclear". Indeed, he said the "safest legal course" was to seek the second UN resolution which never emerged.
While a "reasonable case" for war could be made without a second resolution, there was a crucial caveat: there needed to be "strong factual grounds" to prove Saddam was refusing to disarm.
"In other words, we would need to be able to demonstrate hard evidence of [Saddam’s] non-compliance and non-cooperation," he said. And this would depend on the views of the UN weapons inspectors who had been readmitted to Iraq.
At the time, Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector, had been giving detailed reports on his work in Iraq and had laid out progress reports on 27 January and 14 February. On the day Lord Goldsmith’s memo was prepared, Mr Blix said that Saddam was disarming and pleaded for more time to continue his task.
The view of the UN weapons inspectors was "highly significant" in deciding whether Saddam had "failed to take its final opportunity" to disarm, Lord Goldsmith warned.
Yet Mr Blair justified war by saying he disagreed with Mr Blix, and that inspectors had shown Saddam was refusing to disarm. This was against the direct advice of Lord Goldsmith.
His most crushing caveat was to say that even if Britain could produce a "reasonable case" for war it "does not mean that if the matter ever came before a court I would be confident the court would agree with the view."
Lord Goldsmith also tackled head-on the suggestion that Jacques Chirac, the French president, could effectively ruin the UN Security Council process by threatening to veto a second resolution no matter what the weapons inspectors found.
On 7 March, this was very much on the cards. Mr Blair argued that Mr Chirac had made a second UN resolution impossible by declaring he was flatly against an Iraq war and would veto "whatever the circumstances."
But Lord Goldsmith’s letter explicitly says that Mr Blair had no legal ground for disregarding the UN process simply because he believed that one country was being unreasonable.
"I do not believe that there is any basis in law for arguing that there is an implied condition of reasonableness which can be read into the power of veto," the memo says.
Yesterday, Mr Blair was asked what changed between the 7 March leaked memo, and the 17 March published advice which gave a clear and unequivocal case for war. "No, it didn’t change," Mr Blair replied.
Michael Howard, leader, of the Conservatives, has said he believes the war was legal - but the issue is whether Mr Blair was honest with the public in publishing the legal advice.
"[Mr Blair] says the Attorney General’s advice to the Cabinet on the 17 March was ‘very clear’ that the war was legal, and that the Attorney General had not changed his mind. It is obvious that this is not the case."
The leak plays directly into the hands of the Conservatives, who on Tuesday released a poster saying "If he’s prepared to lie to take us to war, he’s prepared to lie to win an election."
What the Attorney General wrote to the Prime Minister
ON 17 March 2003, the advice on the legality of the Iraq war was published by Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General. It was billed as a "summary" of the private advice given to the Prime Minister on 7 March - the full document was never disclosed.
Ever since, the Prime Minister has come under pressure to release the full advice. He has refused, saying it would set a dangerous precedent for his successors. With eight days until the general election, it has finally come to light.
For months, Mr Blair has denied that the advice changed between 7 March secret memo and the 17 March version shown to MPs and the public. For the first time, the two documents can be compared.
PUBLISHED VERSION: The UN decided in resolution 1441 that, if Iraq failed at any time to comply with and co-operate fully in the implementation of resolution 1441, that would constitute a further material breach. It is plain that Iraq has failed so to comply and therefore Iraq was at the time of resolution 1441 and continues to be in material breach.
LEAKED MEMO: "The language of Resolution 1441 leaves the position unclear and the statements made on adoption of the resolution suggest that there were differences of view within the Council as to the legal effect of the resolution."
PUBLISHED VERSION: "Resolution 1441 would in terms have provided that a further decision of the Security Council to sanction force was required - if that had been intended.
Thus, all that resolution 1441 requires is reporting to and discussion by the Security Council of Iraq's failures, but not an express further decision to authorise force."
LEAKED MEMO: "The argument that resolution 1441 alone has revived the authorisation to use force in resolution 678 will only be sustainable if there are strong factual grounds for concluding that Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity.
In other words, we would need to be able to demonstrate hard evidence of non-compliance and non-cooperation.
PUBLISHED VERSION: "The Security Council in resolution 1441 gave Iraq "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations" and warned Iraq of the "serious consequences" if it did not. ..
It is plain that Iraq has failed so to comply and therefore Iraq was at the time of resolution 1441 and continues to be in material breach.
LEAKED MEMO: In the light of the latest reporting by UNMOVIC [weapons inspectors], you will need to consider very carefully whether the evidence of non-cooperation and non- compliance by Iraq is sufficiently compelling to justify the conclusion that Iraq has failed to take its final opportunity.
Other sections of the leaked memo:
UNREASONABLE VETO: "I do not believe that there is any basis in law for arguing that there is an implied condition of reasonableness which can be read into the power of veto conferred on the permanent members of the Security Council by the UN Charter.
So there are no grounds for arguing that an ‘unreasonable veto’ would entitle us to proceed on the basis of a presumed Security Council authorisation...
If world opinion remains opposed to military action, it is likely to be difficult on the facts to categorise a French veto as "unreasonable".
A "reasonable case" does not mean that if the matter ever came before a court I would be confident that the court would agree with the view.
Fall-out from conflict offers ammunition whose true power has yet to be seen
FROM a position somewhere in the murky middle-ground of the election campaign, Iraq is now front and centre.
This is not where Tony Blair wants it to be, but the elevation of the war to the top of the agenda will delight Charles Kennedy, Michael Howard and Alex Salmond.
The opposition party leaders will do everything they can to hammer home their advantage ahead of polling day.
The real problem for Labour strategists is working out how much damage the revelations have done to the Prime Minister and what they can possibly do to move the agenda on.
Political analysts were split last night about the effect on the Prime Minister and the Labour Party of Lord Goldsmith’s advice.
On the one hand, the advice appeared to support the Prime Minister’s contention that the war was legal. The Attorney General said the legal basis of the war was "unclear" and, while he said a second UN resolution was preferable, he did not say it was vital.
However, Lord Goldsmith’s original advice also was significantly different from the amended, shortened, published advice which the Prime Minister used as the justification for war.
This gives the green light for both sides of the argument to use the document to promote their own agendas. The Liberal Democrats and the SNP will claim that the advice shows Lord Goldsmith was forced to change his opinions to fit in with the government’s view, while the government will insist that the Attorney General’s original advice was compatible with the eventual decision to go to war.
The Tories are in a more difficult position. They not only backed the war, but have said it was probably legal.
Mr Howard will use Lord Goldsmith’s advice to undermine the reputation of the Prime Minister, building on his accusations of untrustworthiness and misleading the public, but he is unlikely to be able to find the ammunition to score a really devastating hit.
The most damaging effect of the advice, however, is likely to come from the legal challenge that is expected to be launched against the government by families of service personnel killed in Iraq.
While any legal case will drag on for years, almost certainly without any definite resolution, it will add to the impression of secrecy, hidden agendas and a lack of transparency at the heart of government - all of which will hurt the Prime Minister.
It cannot be proven whether or not the war was legal.
But it does support the central charge against Mr Blair - that he did not level with the British public.
It is hard to compare the leaked memo, with all its caveats, with the published advice, which expressed absolute certainty, and claim one is a summary of the other.
This is exactly what Mr Blair did not want to happen, and it threatens to derail the Labour campaign.
It is an extraordinary opportunity for the Conservatives - it remains to be seen whether they will seize it.
TIMELINE: THE SHIFTING SANDS OF THE CASE FOR WAR
March 7 2003: Lord Goldsmith gave secret advice to the Prime Minister, warning that British troops in any invasion might face prosecution in the international courts and the "safest legal course" would be to secure a new Security Council resolution authorising war.
March 17 2003: Lord Goldsmith spelled out the government’s legal basis for war in a parliamentary written answer. He argued that the combined effect of previous UN resolutions on Iraq allowed "the use of force for the express purpose of restoring international peace and security".
March 17 2003: Britain abandoned its efforts to secure a new UN resolution. Britain’s ambassador to the UN said Britain, the US and Spain had concluded there was no consensus in the Security Council for their draft resolution and so would not put it to a vote.
March 20 2003: War begins.
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