Cherie 'helped make the legal case for war'

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Cherie Blair helped to convince Clare Short, the former Secretary of State for International Development, that the decision to attack Iraq was justified under international law, according to a new book by Ms Short, an extract from which appears inThe Independent on Sunday today.

Cherie Blair helped to convince Clare Short, the former Secretary of State for International Development, that the decision to attack Iraq was justified under international law, according to a new book by Ms Short, an extract from which appears inThe Independent on Sunday today.

The soothing words from the Prime Minister's wife were one reason that Ms Short surprised many of those who knew her by voting in favour of the war. She later resigned from the Cabinet, claiming that she had been misled by Tony Blair

Ms Short also suspects that Mrs Blair, a highly qualified lawyer, helped to reassure her husband that what he was doing was legally justified.

In the run-up to the war in March 2003, the then minister sought out the Prime Minister's wife, hoping to enlist her help in stopping the slide to war.

"Cherie gave me a cup of tea and was very friendly but firmly assured me that Tony would not contemplate breaking international law," she writes in the book, an extract from which appears on page 20. "I was left with the impression that Cherie was involved in discussion of the issues and very supportive of Tony."

Ms Short told The Independent on Sunday: "Cherie and Tony have a very close and good relationship." Ms Short writes: "She is a human rights lawyer. I think it's inevitable they will discuss these matters. I was running out of options, but I thought I would try going to her because I was really worried about the legalities.

"From that conversation I concluded that she had been part of the discussions and was content to go along with what Tony was doing. Cherie is a human rights lawyer. But Guantanamo Bay is there; Mozzaam Begg still isn't home. The conclusion has to be that Cherie is content."

Her revelations come in a week when Tony Blair has been under fire from Labour MPs again over the British military presence in Iraq. Yesterday a senior cabinet minister admitted that the issue will cost Labour support at the next election.

Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, told a conference called by the political pressure group Compass: "I know there are deep disagreements within our party, and across the country, about the action we have taken in Iraq. I know too that, for some Labour supporters, Iraq is so important that they will not vote Labour at the next election. But for most people, Iraq will not be the decisive factor in how they vote - or whether they vote at all."

The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, told the same conference the Labour Party has to tackle the issue of public mistrust of politicians generally.

Although Clare Short's revelations do not imply that Mrs Blair had done anything improper, they will fuel the debate about her role as the most politically active Downing Street spouse of modern times. This week, she will be spending the school half term in the US, where her visit will include a highly lucrative lecture tour that will help to pay for the Blairs' £3.6m new home in Bayswater, London.

She was signed up by the Harry Walker Agency in New York, whose clients include Bill Clinton, Benazir Bhutto and Henry Kissinger, to deliver three lectures, for which it has been estimated she could earn £100,000.

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