Blair broke code to keep war advice from Cabinet

MPs clamour for inquiry as row flares again over legality of Iraq invasion
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Tony Blair is facing calls for a formal investigation after it emerged that he breached the official code of conduct for ministers by failing to show the Attorney General's full advice on the legality of the Iraq war to the Cabinet.

Tony Blair is facing calls for a formal investigation after it emerged that he breached the official code of conduct for ministers by failing to show the Attorney General's full advice on the legality of the Iraq war to the Cabinet.

MPs demanded that Sir Andrew Turnbull, the Cabinet Secretary, launch an immediate inquiry into whether Mr Blair and the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, flouted the code.

Politicians from all parties seized on a written answer from the Prime Minister as an admission that cabinet ministers should have been given Lord Goldsmith's full legal opinion before Britain went to war.

The former cabinet minster Clare Short stepped into the row yesterday when she accused Mr Blair and Lord Goldsmith of flouting the code. In a letter copied to the Prime Minister and Sir Andrew, Ms Short accused Lord Goldsmith of failing "to comply with the ministerial code when giving your advice to the Cabinet".

She said: "I am afraid that it is now clear to me that by failing to reveal your full legal advice and the considerations that underpinned your final advice, you misled the Cabinet and therefore helped obtain support for military action improperly. This is a very serious matter in relation to the war in Iraq, the integrity of your office, your own integrity and the proper working of UK constitutional arrangements."

The former international development secretary added: "The logic flows to Blair but I am starting with the Attorney General. There should be a proper system of investigation of complaints under the ministerial code." The Attorney General's office said it had not seen Ms Short's letter but would respond when it arrived.

A number of ministers have resigned for breaching the code, which sets out how ministers should behave. Mr Blair's apparent breach emerged after Simon Thomas, a Plaid Cymru MP, asked the Prime Minister whether he was "required under the ministerial code of conduct to show full legal advice from the Attorney General relating to matters before the Cabinet to each member of the Cabinet."

Mr Blair did not deny he was required to show full legal advice to his colleagues but referred Mr Thomas to the part of the code relating to "the conduct of cabinet business" and "advice received from the law officers". It says when a summary of legal advice is given to ministers, the full advice should be attached. "When advice from the Law Officers is included in correspondence between Ministers, or in papers for the Cabinet or Ministerial Committees," the code says, "the conclusions may if necessary be summarised but, if this is done, the complete text of the advice should be attached."

A Downing Street spokesman said: "As far as the legal advice on Iraq is concerned he has behaved properly at all times."

Mr Thomas said the reply was an "admission" from Mr Blair that he was in breach of the code. He added: "It puts him in the frame. For the first time you see through the cracks in his defences and he has had to admit he has breached the code. I am writing to Sir Andrew asking him to investigate and to the Prime Minister saying, you have breached the code."

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrats' foreign affairs spokesman, said: "On the face of it, the Prime Minister was in breach of the ministerial code. The unsatisfactory nature of events is illustrated by the fact that the guardian of that code is the Prime Minister himself."

Cabinet members were not shown the full advice before the decision was made to go to war. They were given a presentation by the Attorney General and a copy of his parliamentary answer about his advice.

Lord Goldsmith told the House of Lords that the written answer setting out his views on the legality of war was "a summary of my view of the legal position, rather than a detailed consideration of legal issues".

In his introduction to the code, Mr Blair said the code was crucial to "the bond of trust between the British people and their Government". It is the Prime Minister himself who is the watchdog and must initiate investigations into the code.

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