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Fresh doubts are raised over the legality of Iraq conflict

By Andrew Grice

24 February 2005

Tony Blair came under renewed pressure yesterday to publish the legal advice on which he took Britain to war in Iraq after fresh doubts were cast about the opinion given by the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith.

The controversy was reopened by claims that Lord Goldsmith's crucial statement endorsing military action was drafted by Downing Street rather than himself. This summary of his legal opinion was all that Cabinet ministers and MPs saw before backing the action.

Philippe Sands, a QC in Cherie Blair's Matrix chambers and a professor of international law at University College London, claims in his book Lawless World that Lord Goldsmith warned Mr Blair in a document on 7 March 2003 that the use of force against Iraq could be illegal. Mr Sands wrote: "So concerned was the Government about the possibility of such a case that it took steps to put together a legal team to prepare for possible international litigation."

The Government has refused to publish the 7 March document. On 13 March, Lord Goldsmith changed his view. He told Lord Falconer of Thoroton, then a Home Office minister, and Baroness Morgan, Mr Blair's director of government relations, that he believed an invasion would be legal without a new United Nations Security Council resolution, according to Mr Sands. The book claims that Lord Falconer and Baroness Morgan summarised Lord Goldsmith's views in the parliamentary written statement issued in his name. But this appeared to be "neither a summary nor a precis of any of the earlier advice which the Attorney General had provided".

Robin Cook, who resigned from the Cabinet over Iraq, said the Government must now publish the Attorney General's written opinion. He said: "If true, this is deeply alarming because what it tells us is that actually there was no second opinion from the Attorney General and what has been served up to us in Parliament as a precis of his second opinion was actually drafted in Downing Street by the Prime Minister's head of political affairs and by Charlie Falconer."

Yesterday, Downing Street struggled to explain why it would not disclose Lord Goldsmith's full advice on the day that Lord Falconer, now the Lord Chancellor, published his legal advice on the Royal marriage. Mr Blair's official spokesman said: "The Lord Chancellor was setting out the reasoning. The Attorney General also set out his reasoning, but not the detailed advice."

Lord Goldsmith said: "It was my genuine and independent view that action was lawful under existing Security Council resolutions. The parliamentary statement was genuinely my own view and I was not leaned on to give that view. It is nonsense to suggest that No 10 wrote the statement."