Rifkind attacks PM over Iraq war

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Indy Politics

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the last Conservative foreign secretary, has accused Tony Blair of taking Britain into the Iraq war "on a false prospectus".

Sir Malcolm has also urged that no government should ever again publish intelligence material in order to build up a case for war. He has added his name to the list of those demanding that the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith QC, should publish the advice he gave at the time on whether the war was legal. However, Sir Malcolm added that he was content for the advice to be withheld from the public if it could be revealed to a properly constituted committee of inquiry.

Sir Malcolm, who lost his Commons seat in 1997, was adopted last month as Conservative candidate in the safe seat of Kensington and Chelsea, and is expected to join the Tory front bench after the next election.

His comments, in an article for The Independent on Sunday, will add to Labour's fears that the consensus with the Conservatives over Iraq is breaking down. Last week, Michael Howard withdrew his party's support for the inquiry headed by Lord Butler of Brockwell into intelligence reports of Iraqi weapons, although he subsequently supported Mr Blair's call for a change in international law to permit intervention against tyrannical regimes.

Today Mr Howard will give a major speech at the party's spring conference in Harrogate, in which he is expected to say that public services will be the main battleground of the general election. He is also likely to call for cannabis to return to its old classification as a Class B drug, with greater penalties for users.

Sir Malcolm has gone further than other leading Tories in his criticism of the dossier published by Mr Blair in September 2002, six months before the Iraq war, which set out the evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and warned that they could be made ready for use at 45 minutes' notice. Sir Malcolm said that - accurate or not - it should not have been published in the first place. He writes: "I was in receipt of top-secret documents for five years both as Minister of Defence and as Foreign Secretary. Neither I nor any previous Labour or Tory minister would have dreamt of publishing material in the name of the Joint Intelligence Committee. That would have been to politicise the JIC on an issue that divided the nation."

Sir Malcolm calls for a wide-ranging inquiry modelled on the Franks inquiry, which looked into the causes of the Falklands conflict. "What the Government cannot do is refuse both publication and a full inquiry."

Sir Nicholas Lyell QC, an attorney general in John Major's government, said there were a number of precedents for publishing law officers' opinions: he had done so on the legality of the Maastricht Treaty, for instance. "I do think that the Government is going to find it very hard to resist the pressure on this," he said.