Tony Blair blocked Iraq war legal advice claims former aide

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By G.A.Ponsonby
 
Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair blocked the Cabinet from seeing documents detailing advice on the legality of the Iraq war.
 
The claims are made in the diaries of the former PM’s press aide, Alastair Campbell.  MPs have now demanded an urgent recall of the Chilcot inquiry.

According to newly published excerpts from the diaries, the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith wanted to “put the reality” to cabinet ministers that there was a case against, as well as for, military action in March 2003.

However, according to Mr Campbell, Tony Blair blocked the proposal fearing it would be used by Cabinet members Robin Cook and Clare Short, in order to bolster their own case against an invasion.

MPs from all parties have now urged Sir John Chilcot, who is now preparing his report into the Iraq war after hearing evidence, to reconvene a special session to hear from Mr Blair, Mr Campbell and Lord Goldsmith.

Commenting on the claims, SNP Westminster Leader and Foreign Affairs spokesperson Angus Robertson MP said the new revelations underlined the need for independence.

Mr Robertson said:

“These revelations are significant because, while it has long been known that Tony Blair put pressure on Lord Goldsmith to change his legal advice, Alistair Campbell has confirmed that the former prime minister actually blocked the Cabinet from hearing all the evidence over the case for war.

“The tapestry of deceit which was manufactured by Tony Blair – the pretence of making an illegal war legal – has unravelled.

“The complete lack of any credible legal basis for the disastrous Iraq war was well ventilated and understood at the time, yet Labour parliamentarians – aided and abetted by the Tories – followed Tony Blair into backing a war which has cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

“The Iraq war was the UK’s biggest foreign policy blunder of modern times, and no-one who backed it is fit to hold public office.

“Ed Miliband came out against the war more than seven years after it started – yet said nothing at the time or in those long years after.  And Johann Lamont, along with her Labour colleagues, voted in support of war in Iraq in the Scottish Parliament debate on 13 March 2003 – a vote which will long shame the Labour Party in Scotland.

“Those who supported the illegal Iraq war can be in no doubt about their own culpability and the Iraq war is a graphic example of why Scotland should not leave these decisions to Westminster.”

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said: “According to the diaries, Tony Blair was determined that the decision should not rest with the Cabinet and overruled his Attorney General.  Sofa government prevailed at the expense of constitutional requirements.  The diaries prove that once a decision to go to war against Iraq had been taken, intelligence and legal advice was manipulated to support that decision.”

According to Mr Campbell’s diaries, Lord Goldsmith advised Mr Blair not to “present it too positively” in favour of military action because there was a “case to be made the other way”.

Mr Campbell wrote: “TB also made it clear he did not particularly want Goldsmith to launch a detailed discussion at Cabinet, though it would have to happen at some time, and ministers would want to cross-examine.

“With the mood as it was, and with Robin [Cook] and Clare [Short] operating as they were, he knew if there was any nuance at all, they would be straight out saying the advice was that it was not legal, the AG [Attorney General] was casting doubt on the legal basis for war.

“Peter Goldsmith was clear that though a lot depended on what happened, he was casting doubt in some circumstances and if Cabinet had to approve the policy of going to war, he had to be able to put the reality to them.”

Mr Campbell claims the move was blocked by Mr Blair and the then Prime Minister’s ‘gatekeeper’, Sally Morgan. 

According to Mr Campbell, on March 11th: “Sally said it was for TB to speak to Cabinet, and act on the AG’s advice.  He would simply say the advice said there was a reasonable case.”

Lord Goldsmith subsequently drafted a one page document that produced a “reasonable case” for war which was then used in order to justify the invasion.

Last night former Labour Cabinet Minister Clare Short described Mr Blair as “deceitful”.