by Chris Ames
The Guardian is making a lot of Nick Clegg’s alleged “gaffe” at PMQs today when he described the Iraq war as illegal:
a leading international lawyer warned that the statement by a government minister in such a formal setting could increase the chances of charges against Britain in international courts.
Philippe Sands, professor of law at University College London, said: “A public statement by a government minister in parliament as to the legal situation would be a statement that an international court would be interested in, in forming a view as to whether or not the war was lawful.”
The Inquiry told the Guardian that it does not intend to pronounce on the legality of the war but, the Guardian says,
it is understood that the Lib Dem leader feels freer to speak out against the alleged illegality of the Iraq war after the recent publication of previously classified documents by the Chilcot inquiry.
Sir Gus O’Donnell, the cabinet secretary, wrote to Sir John Chilcot on 25 June to allow the inquiry to publish more documents relating to the legal advice. The most significant of these documents was a note on 30 January 2003 by the then attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, to Tony Blair.
In the note Goldsmith wrote: “I remain of the view that the correct legal interpretation of [UN security council] resolution 1441 is that it does not authorise the use of military force without a further determination by the security council.”
Goldsmith famously changed his mind on the legality of the war in March 2003 after Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, the former chief of the defence staff, demanded a clear undertaking that military action would be lawful. Boyce feared that British forces could face legal action unless the invasion had legal cover.
On 7 March 2003, after visiting Washington, Goldsmith told Blair that a new UN resolution may not be necessary, although invading Iraq without one could lead to Britain being indicted before an international court. Ten days later Goldsmith ruled that an invasion would be lawful.
Sands said: “Lord Goldsmith never gave a written advice that the war was lawful. Nick Clegg is only repeating what Lord Goldsmith told Tony Blair on 30 January 2003: that without a further UN security resolution the war would be illegal and Jack Straw knows that.”