Nigel Morris: How Mr Blair and Mr Straw abandoned law for politics...

A picture emerged of warnings being brushed aside at the highest levels

Share
Related Topics

The three former ministers feeling the most intense heat over the legality of the Iraq war – Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Peter Goldsmith – are qualified lawyers. Mr Blair and Mr Straw abandoned the law for politics, while Lord Goldsmith combined both careers in his role as Attorney General.

The politicians' apparent determination to override the unanimous opinion of Foreign Office lawyers is the most dramatic disclosure so far at the Chilcot hearings, and Elizabeth Wilmshurst made no effort yesterday to disguise her opinion of her former political master's expertise.

Asked whether she believed Mr Straw's view had been influenced by his legal qualifications, she replied acidly: "He is not an international lawyer."

On the 31st day of hearings, a picture emerged of warnings that the invasion had no basis in international law being brushed aside at the government's highest levels.

Sir Michael Wood, the senior legal adviser at the Foreign Office, said his arguments were rejected out of hand when he advised Mr Straw that war could not be justified without a fresh UN resolution.

He told him in a memo two months before the war: "To use force without Security Council authority would amount to a crime of aggression." Mr Straw wrote back: "I note your advice but I do not accept it." Sir Michael said yesterday: "He took the view that I was being very dogmatic and that international law was pretty vague and that he wasn't used to people taking such a firm position."

His version of events provided a striking contrast to Mr Straw's portrayal last week of his "reluctance" to go to war and fears over its illegality. Documents released to the inquiry yesterday also made plain that Downing Street was left in no doubt over its lawyers' worries. Lord Goldsmith initially told Mr Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, that he was "pessimistic" that the legal basis existed for military action. But Mr Straw argued for a legal interpretation "which coincides with our policy intention".

Lord Goldsmith eventually reversed his legal advice just three days before tanks crossed into Iraq. Today he will face intense pressure to explain the factors that led him to change his mind. Without his legal approval, it would have been politically impossible for Mr Blair to win backing from the Commons for the invasion.

The former prime minister will be asked by the Chilcot team on Friday whether Downing Street bullied his Attorney General into line – or deliberately delayed seeking his advice. He will be challenged over Ms Wilmshurst's accusation that Number 10 treated winning legal backing for the war as secondary to pressing ahead with military preparations.

As for Mr Straw, who returns to the Chilcot inquiry next month, he will face questions over whether – despite his protestations to the contrary – he took the key role in removing the legal barriers to war.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Media Sales - OTE up to £30,000

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award-winning company, whi...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Developer

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique & exciting opp...

Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

Recruitment Genius: Part-time Editor

£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leadership hopefuls, from left, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall, Andy Burnham and Jeremy Corbyn on the BBC  

If you’re thinking of voting for Jeremy Corbyn, here are my promises to you

Andy Burnham
Stock prices in China: Economic power has shifted east, and emerging market equities can bring rewards - and risk  

The economics of the stock market is simple really: buy and hold

Ben Chu
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935