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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Legal Cashier - Oxford

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Legal Cashier - Oxford We have an excellent ...

Production and Merchandising Assistant

£19,000 - £21,000: Sauce Recruitment: A contemporary, original wholesale distr...

PPC Account Managers

£25k - £30k (DOE): Guru Careers: Two expert PPC Account Managers are needed to...

Year 3 Primary Teacher - Dewsbury

£110 - £155 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: An excellent, last minute opp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The daily catch-up: Joe on Vlad, banks of the Jordan and Blair's radicalism

John Rentoul
 

Believe me, I said, there’s nothing rural about this urban borough’s attempt at a country fair

John Walsh
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor