by Chris Ames
The Independent on Sunday reports that:
MPs demanded an emergency recall of the Chilcot inquiry last night after new revelations that Tony Blair blocked the Government’s most senior lawyer from explaining to Cabinet the legality of the war in Iraq.
The story is based on the new version of Alastair Campbell’s diaries, which apparently record that in March 2003:
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 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.
I haven’t bought or otherwise looked at Campbell’s latest moneyspinner and it is difficult to work out the context. The point is of course that this sort of revelation/claim should not be coming out now, given that the Inquiry should have got to the bottom of it. The IoS points out that at the Inquiry Goldsmith expressly denied that anyone had put such pressure on him. Here is the relevant extract:
SIR RODERIC LYNE: Before you went to Cabinet — I know I’m going ahead a bit here — how was it decided that you would present the advice to Cabinet in the way that you presented it to Cabinet? Was it solely by you or was it by you in discussion with the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary or others?
RT HON LORD GOLDSMITH QC: No, this was really my decision, and the point for me was to decide what the — determine how to express my view to Parliament, and the Parliamentary answer then seemed to be a convenient way, as a framework really, for what I would then say to Cabinet about my view on legality.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: So no one at any stage asked you to restrict what you said to Cabinet to the fairly limited terms in which you presented this to Cabinet?
RT HON LORD GOLDSMITH QC: No
Amazingly, Campbell told the IoS that the two accounts were “entirely consistent”. We already know that Goldsmith’s account is untrue, a note of a meeting between Goldsmith and Straw on 13 March 2003 records that Goldsmith told Straw:
that he thought he might need to tell the Cabinet when it met on 17 March that the legal issues were finely balanced. The Foreign Secretary said that he needed to be aware of the problem of leaks from that Cabinet .
If the Inquiry does not address this, it will have no credibility at all.