Alastair Campbell reveals: Tony Blair did hide Iraq War legal advice

Former PM rejects spin doctor's claim that Attorney General's doubts kept from Cabinet


James Cusick, 25 June 2012 - The Independent


Tony Blair dismissed his former spin doctor's account of what his Cabinet was told about the Iraq War's legality as "absolutely not true" yesterday.


In the latest volume of his diaries, Alastair Campbell claims Lord Goldsmith, then Attorney General, was prevented in 2002 from telling the Cabinet about his "doubts" on the legal basis for war.


But in an interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr, Mr Blair denied he had intervened to stop Lord Goldsmith giving the Cabinet the "reality" of the legal position Britain faced if it went to war against Saddam Hussein's regime without the backing of the United Nations.


According to Mr Campbell's diaries, Mr Blair feared any nuanced evaluation would give too much ammunition to the Cabinet's leading anti-war critics, Robin Cook and Clare Short.


The issue of the Iraq War's legality has continued to hound Mr Blair since he left Downing Street in 2007. Following a story in yesterday's Independent on Sunday which claimed Mr Blair had "misled" the Cabinet, the former Prime Minister told the BBC, "People like The Independent – you know I'll never win this argument with them over Iraq."


However Mr Campbell's account chimes with much of the detail that Lord Goldsmith gave the Chilcot Inquiry in 2010. In his written testimony, the Cabinet's former senior legal adviser said he had been kept out of the loop during key meetings in late 2002. He said his legal advice on UN negotiating tactics "was not sought".


Other documents released to the inquiry showed Lord Goldsmith was continuing to warn about the legal consequences of invading Iraq without fresh UN authority right up to the beginning of February 2003.


According to the Campbell diaries: "TB [Tony Blair] also made it clear he did not particularly want Goldsmith to launch a detailed discussion at Cabinet ... With the mood as it was with Robin [Cook] and Clare [Short]... 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 war. Peter Goldsmith was clear that 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 Blair told the BBC: "The notion that the Cabinet never discussed this issue is absurd".


Some MPs, including the former Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, have demanded that Sir John Chilcot reconvene a special session of his inquiry to re-examine the accounts given by Mr Blair, Mr Campbell and Lord Goldsmith.

The article on The Independent