Untruthful Blair may win, but the storm of scandal is gathering

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The Independent Online

As we race towards election day, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is ever more clearly exposed for what he really is. Thus far, we have learnt that he is untruthful (see the the Prime Minister's admission that he named Dr David Kelly in the interview last week with Jeremy Paxman on BBC 1). He has no regard for civil liberties (see the anti-terrorism legislation passed in the final days of the last Parliament). He has opened the door to torture of terrorist suspects (see the report by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons published this month).

As we race towards election day, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is ever more clearly exposed for what he really is. Thus far, we have learnt that he is untruthful (see the the Prime Minister's admission that he named Dr David Kelly in the interview last week with Jeremy Paxman on BBC 1). He has no regard for civil liberties (see the anti-terrorism legislation passed in the final days of the last Parliament). He has opened the door to torture of terrorist suspects (see the report by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons published this month).

Today we can see Mr Blair even more clearly than before. For there has arrived much fuller details than we have previously known about the advice of the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, on the legality of the Iraq war. It comes by way of a leak to newspapers from an insider who was presumably disgusted by the way the Attorney came to change his mind.

We should not be surprised at this last-minute disclosure. Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the Foreign Office's deputy legal adviser, resigned in protest at the Attorney General's final position. Then last November, Sir Stephen Wall, a former foreign policy adviser at 10 Downing Street commented publicly: "We allowed our judgement of the dire consequences of inaction to override our judgements of the even more dire consequences of departing from the rule of law."

This is a story in which chronology is everything. Start with 7 March, 2003. On that day, Lord Goldsmith warned the Prime Minister that going to war could be in breach of international law. It was not for Britain to decide whether Iraq had defied the United Nation's order to disarm. UN resolution 1441 could not bear the weight Mr Blair was placing on it. The UN resolutions that permitted the ejection of Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait did not permit the toppling of the dictator. Why else did the Allies stop at the Iraq border? The weapons inspectors in Iraq were successfully getting on with their task.

10 March. Sir Michael Boyce, the Chief of Defence Staff, sought a clearer assurance of the war's legality, which says something about the 7 March memorandum. "I asked for unequivocal advice that what we were proposing to do was lawful," he subsequently explained. His concerns were transmitted to the Attorney General through the Prime Minister. Sir Michael said he was "reassured I would get what I asked for".

13 March. Lord Goldsmith met Baroness Morgan from 10 Downing Street and Lord Falconer, then a Home Office minister, both of them close colleagues of Mr Blair. There the Attorney communicated his "clearer" views that it was lawful to use force without another resolution.

14 March. Sir Michael Boyce received his reassurance.

15 March. The Prime Minister confirmed in writing "unequivocally [his] view that Iraq had committed further material breaches" of Security Council resolutions.

17 March. In reply to a question in the House of Lords, Lord Goldsmith provided a 337-word written reply which states that "authority to use force against Iraq exists from the combined effect of Resolutions 678, 687 and 1441".

17 March. At a cabinet meeting, ministers were provided with the House of Lords statement and nothing else. Contrary to the Ministerial Code of Conduct, which requires the full text of any legal advice to be made available, no other papers were provided.

Lord Goldsmith must know that unless he corrects this version of events, he would look very weak and his reputation would sink very low. He must see that unless he can show the newspapers' account of his 7 March advice is wrong, or that he learnt something significant between 7 March and 17 March sufficient to justify a change of mind, he would be politically and professionally ruined.

What, though, does all this say about the Prime Minister? I am beginning to wonder whether we should add a further charge to his sheet, that he persuaded Parliament to approve the invasion of Iraq by what were essentially fraudulent means. We already know the Prime Minister, in his speech to the House of Commons, failed to disclose the strong advice he had received from the Joint Intelligence Committee warning him that "there was no intelligence that Iraq had provided chemical or biological materials to al-Qa'ida or of Iraqi intentions to conduct chemical or biological attacks using Iraqi intelligence officers or their agents". Add to that the failure to provide the Cabinet with the full advice from the Attorney General. What does all this add up to? Is it not beginning to look like the worst scandal in British public life for a very long time? The chances are that Mr Blair will win the election and remain as Prime Minister. But he should not suppose disquiet about the means by which he governs is going to subside. On the contrary, the storm will continue to gather. When it eventually bursts, much will be washed away.

Dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction

Tony Blair said: "[It] discloses that his military planning allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them."

In July last year Mr Blair said: "As the months have passed, it seems increasingly clear that at the time of invasion, Saddam did not have stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons ready to deploy."

The naming of David Kelly

Mr Blair denied authorising the naming of government weapons expert Dr David Kelly. In July 2003 he insisted: "I did not authorise the leaking of [his name]." During the Hutton inquiry Mr Blair defended the decision to confirm his name. Asked last week whether he felt responsibility for his death, Mr Blair replied: "I don't believe we had any option but to disclose his name."

The al-Qa'ida threat

Last month, Tony Blair claimed there were hundreds of potential terrorists in Britain. Pushing new anti-terror laws through the Commons, he said: "There are several hundred of them in this country ... engaged in plotting or trying to commit terrorist acts." Charles Clarke, Home Secretary, said last week only a "tiny number of people" represented a terrorist threat.

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