Adviser quits Foreign Office
over legality of war
/bigger>/bigger>/bigger>/bigger>/fontfamily>A senior legal adviser to the foreign
secretary, Jack Straw, has quit the Foreign Office because of a difference over
the legal advice sanctioning the war against Iraq
/bigger>/bigger>/fontfamily>Ewen MacAskill, diplomatic editor
March 22, 2003
A senior legal adviser to the foreign secretary,
Jack Straw, has quit the Foreign Office because of a difference over the legal
advice sanctioning the war against Iraq, it emerged last night.
Elizabeth Wilmhurst, 54, deputy legal adviser, is understood to be
unhappy with the government's official line that it has sufficient basis for war
under UN resolutions. Ms Wilmhurst has been a legal adviser at the Foreign
Office for 30 years, and deputy legal officer since 1997.
resignation will be an embarrassment to Tony Blair as well as to Mr Straw and
raises new doubts about the legal basis for the war. It will encourage anti-war
MPs to renew pressure on the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, to publish in
full his legal advice to the government.
The Foreign Office was
reluctant to discuss Ms Wilmhurst's departure. A spokesman said: "A legal
adviser has decided to leave over the last few days." Asked the reason, he said:
"That is a matter for them."
After a week of reported unease within the
government about the legality of going to war without a second UN resolution,
Lord Goldsmith on Monday published a condensed version of his advice to Mr
Blair. But anti-war MPs and many lawyers suspect the full version may be more
Concern about the legal advice was expressed this week
by two former Foreign Office legal advisers. In a letter to the Times, Sir
Franklin Berman, legal adviser from 1991-99, and Sir Arthur Watts, legal adviser
from 1987-91, expressed regret that the search for a second resolution had been
abandoned. They said the onus was on the government to account "for their
actions to the international community in whose name they claim to act".
The Guardian was unable to contact Ms Wilmhurst.