Was PM trying to cover up his requests to Goldsmith?

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Tony Blair did not issue any written instructions asking the Attorney General for his legal opinion on the Iraq war, The Independent has learnt.

Tony Blair did not issue any written instructions asking the Attorney General for his legal opinion on the Iraq war, The Independent has learnt.

Downing Street has disclosed that it has nothing in its files relating to instructions to Lord Goldsmith about the legality of invading Iraq. This has prompted accusations that Tony Blair behaved in an excessively casual manner towards the legality of war to try to avoid a paper trail.

MPs and senior lawyers say it is unusual, in matters as serious as a military invasion, for a prime minister not to have instructed his attorney general.

In reply to a freedom of information request from The Independent, asking for copies of the instructions given to Lord Goldsmith about the war, Downing Street said: "Following a search of our files, I have established the Prime Minister's office does not hold any information in relation to this request."

Lord Lester of Herne Hill, a Liberal Democrat peer, and leading international lawyer, said: "This is a cover-up in the interests of political expediency. I would like to know when that advice was sought and when it was given."

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrats' deputy leader, who is a senior barrister, said: "On an issue of such importance as taking military action against Iraq, one would have expected a formal request for [legal] advice from No 10 to be logged and available for scrutiny.

"Lord Butler in his report identified the weaknesses of so-called sofa government. But there is another additional aspect to considering in such an informal and unrecorded way.

"It makes it impossible for anyone outside the circle of those directly involved to follow the sequence of events. The Government has refused Lord Lester's requests under the Freedom of Information Act for the date on which legal instructions were issued to Lord Goldsmith relating to the use of force against Iraq, and the date at which he supplied his legal opinion."

The request to the Attorney General for a legal opinion on the use of force is believed to have come from the Foreign Office.

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