This entry was posted on
Friday, March 11th, 2005 at
9:17 pm and is filed
under It’s War! It’s Legal! It’s Lovely!.
[NOTE – I don’t do this kind of thing often, but this article has been mirrored here in full so it may be found by those who missed it during today’s shedfight.]
Iraq war revelation – There was no full legal advice
Cabinet Secretary admits invasion based on single page of A4
Britain went to war on the basis of a single piece of paper setting out the legality of invading Iraq, the country’s most senior civil servant has revealed.
The Government’s case for war appeared to be in tatters last night after the Cabinet Secretary admitted that a parliamentary answer from Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, was the final legal opinion on the case for war. In an astonishing admission, Sir Andrew Turnbull disclosed that no “full” legal advice on an invasion of Iraq has ever existed.He confirmed that a short parliamentary answer by the Attorney General was the “definitive advice” on the war sent to the Prime Minister and that “there is no other version”.The renewed doubts over the legality of the conflict are a severe setback to Tony Blair, who was hoping that Iraq would fade as a general election issue.MPs had assumed that the parliamentary answer was a précis of a longer, more detailed legal opinion and ministers had come under intense pressure from the media to publish the “full” advice under the Freedom of Information Act.The revelation astonished MPs. Sir Andrew was cross examined about the existence of full legal advice in a Commons committee after The Independent revealed Mr Blair may have breached the prime ministerial code by failing to provide the full legal advice to the Cabinet. Yesterday The Independent reported that questions were being raised by MPs about the existence of legal advice.Charles Kennedy seized on the news and said it showed that the Government’s case for war was shambolic. “This is an astonishing revelation which suggests utter confusion at the heart of government. The Prime Minister must now clarify the situation which is undermining public trust,” the Liberal Democrat leader said. “He must provide a clear statement about what took place regarding the legal advice. Can it really be true that the legal basis on which we went to war consisted of a parliamentary answer and not a full legal opinion?”After intense cross-examination by Tony Wright, the Labour chairman of the Public Administration Committee, Sir Andrew admitted: “There is not a longer version of that advice. There is no other version. This is the definitive statement of his views. In his view it was sufficient for his colleagues to be assured that he thought there was a legal basis for military action. It does not purport to be a summary of his advice. It was the definitive advice that he had reached.”Sir Andrew indicated there was not enough time for Lord Goldsmith to prepare a fuller statement because it was required quickly, when it became clear there would be no second resolution in the UN. He said it summarised his views and was not a summary of a larger document. “What he has put forward is the conclusion that he reached as a result of all the thinking he had been doing.”But Sir Andrew added there were “other papers” which the Government would not disclose.Downing Street refused last night to “get into the advice process”. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman added that the Cabinet was given “an explanation of [the Attorney General’s] conclusions” about the legality of war.But Gordon Prentice, a Labour member of the Public Administration Committee, expressed amazement. He said: “We have been taken to war on the basis of a two-page summary conclusion.”The Attorney General gave a parliamentary answer in the Lords on 17 March 2003 which appears in the Butler report on the intelligence that led to war, on a single page of A4.The answer says “authority to use force” exists from a combination of the UN resolutions. Lord Goldsmith concluded “the authority to use force under resolution 678 has revived and so continues today”.Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrats’ foreign affairs spokesman and a senior barrister, said the parliamentary answer could not be described as a legal opinion. It should contain pages of detailed argument and summaries, particularly on an issue such as war. “The written answer provided in the House of Lords could not possibly be described as a legal opinion,” he said. “The Cabinet Secretary appears to confirm what many have suspected; that there was no formal opinion recording the Attorney General’s change of mind.”The Attorney General did prepare a longer piece of legal advice which he presented to Mr Blair on 7 March. But that advice, believed to be a 13-page paper, is thought not to have given a definitive view on whether war would be legal.Clare Short, a member of the Cabinet at the time, said the absence of a longer legal opinion meant Mr Blair had taken Britain to war “by deception”.She said: “The more one scrutinises what took place the more shocking it is.”The fact that there was no further legal document is astonishing. Then there is the fact that all the to-ings and fro-ings on the legal advice were kept from the Cabinet and Parliament. That means the war was by deception.”Yesterday the Attorney General wrote to Ms Short, the former international development secretary, saying he did not accept her “allegations [on Tuesday] that I failed to comply with the ministerial code or that I misled the Cabinet”.In the letter to Ms Short, Lord Goldsmith said: “At its meeting on 17 March 2003, I reported to Cabinet that I had answered a Parliamentary Question on the authority for the use of force in Iraq. I produced the text of that answer for Cabinet and made an oral presentation. That answer set out, as I have repeatedly stated, my genuine, independent view that the use of force in Iraq was lawful.”