18 Jan 2011

Iraq Inquiry: Blair contradicted legal advice

As the Iraq Inquiry resumes public hearings, a written statement from former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith reveals Tony Blair’s public statements were at odds to the legal advice.

Iraq Inquiry resumes today as more questions asked over legality and Tony Blair's statements (Reuters)

In a statement published yesterday by the Iraq inquiry, Lord Goldsmith revealed he was “uncomfortable” about the former Prime Minister’s comments that Britain could attack Iraq without further United Nations (UN) backing, when his legal advice clearly suggested the opposite.

The Attorney General told Tony Blair on 14 January 2003 there was “no room” for rejecting a veto of a resolution explicitly authorising military action by a permanent UN Security Council member on the grounds it was “unreasonable”.

But the following day Mr Blair told the House of Commons it was necessary to be able to say that Britain would still act if an unreasonable veto was put down.

Get all the background on the Channel 4 News Iraq inquiry blog

Lord Goldsmith only formally presented legal advice that a “reasonable case” could be made to attack Iraq without UN support just a fortnight before the invasion began in March 2003.

Public hearings begin again

Mr Goldsmith’s statement was released along with other documents by the Iraq inquiry team yesterday, ahead of the resumption of public hearings today.

Former head of the RAF Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy, who was the UK’s air component commander in Iraq, will be the first witness to appear. Former Cabinet Office officials Tom McKane, Deputy Head of the department’s Defence and Overseas Secretariat from 1999 to 2002, and Sir Stephen Wall, Mr Blair’s adviser on European issues from 2000 to 2004, will also appear today.

We have to answer a big question – what will this action achieve? There seems to be a larger hole in this than anything. Previously secret memo from Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw

Tony Blair has been re-called to the Chilcot inquiry and will appear on Friday. He has been asked to return to explain gaps in his evidence, and discrepancies with other acccounts. Anti-war campaigners are expected to protest outside the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in central London when Mr Blair gives evidence.

Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Admiral Lord Boyce, Chief of the Defence staff from 2001 to 2003, and Lord Turnbull, Cabinet Secretary from 2002 to 2005, have also all been re-called.

The inquiry is hearing evidence for the first time from current Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell, former Cabinet Secretary Lord Wilson of Dinton and ex-Foreign Office Iraq director John Buck.

A previously secret memo from Mr Straw regarding the Iraq war has also been released.

It reads: “A legal justification is a necessary but far from sufficient precondition for military action.

“We also have to answer the big question – what will this action achieve? There seems to be a larger hole in this than on anything.”