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http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1734151,00.html

No 10 refuses to reveal Iraq war e-mails

DAVID CRACKNELL, POLITICAL EDITOR

Read the Downing Street Memo

DOWNING STREET is refusing to release e-mails from a senior official relating to the attorney-general’s legal advice in the run-up to the Iraq war, raising suspicions that No 10 intervened at a crucial time. It has admitted that an aide reporting to Tony Blair sent confidential e-mails relating to the advice just days before Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, issued a summary version of his legal advice which stated unequivocally that the war was legal.

His original advice, issued 10 days earlier on March 7, 2003 warned that a decision to go to war could be challenged in the international courts.

Until now the government has maintained that Goldsmith was left to get on with his work during this crucial 10-day period without political interference from Downing Street.

Last week, however, Downing Street admitted to The Sunday Times that during that period Baroness Morgan, until recently Blair’s director of government relations, sent e-mails “relating” to the legal advice. It is not clear to whom they were directed.

No 10 says that it will not release the e-mails because they relate to the “formulation of government policy”, which could suggest they reflect the arguments going on about the legal flaws in the case for war.

Senior government sources suspect that the e-mails contain a summary of the arguments that No 10 was privately making to Goldsmith that, contrary to his original advice, war was justified because Saddam Hussein was in breach of United Nations resolutions.

It has been reported that Morgan and another key Blair ally, Lord Falconer, the lord chancellor, held a meeting with Goldsmith on March 13 to discuss his opinion. Goldsmith has rejected the idea that pressure was put on him.

No 10 made the admission about the Morgan e-mails after a request under the Freedom of Information Act. However, Downing Street is refusing to release the e-mails, claiming it is not in the public interest.

Opposition MPs are likely to claim the reluctant release of the March 7 legal advice as a precedent that should lead to the Morgan e-mails being published. They want to know whether the documents were given to the official inquiries held into the Iraq war and its aftermath, including those of Lord Hutton and Lord Butler.

A senior source at the Department for Constitutional Affairs, which Falconer heads, said colleagues had been been “s***ing” themselves that the Morgan e-mails would be released after No 10 went against precedent and released Goldsmith’s full legal advice during the election.

No 10 has twice stalled since the first request by The Sunday Times three months ago. The Sunday Times is now appealing to the information commissioner.