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Sir Michael Wood, the Foreign Office’s chief legal adviser at the time of the 2003 invasion
TONY Blair was warned two months before the invasion of Iraq that it would be illegal to go to war without UN backing, it was revealed yesterday.
Senior Government lawyers told the Iraq inquiry that they advised the action had “no legal basis in international law”.
Last night it was reported every one of the 27 lawyers in the department advised the war was illegal.
Yesterday Sir Michael Wood, who was the Foreign Office’s chief legal adviser, told the hearing he warned the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw an invasion would “amount to the crime of aggression”.
Sir Michael said he considered resigning in protest at the decision to join the US-led attack. He described how he was sidelined after he made clear his objections to military action.
His deputy, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, quit in protest on the eve of the invasion in March 2003.
In her first public account of the circumstances leading to her resignation she described the Government’s treatment of the legal advice as “lamentable”.
The explosive revelations intensified pressure on the former Prime Minister, who will face the Chilcot inquiry on Friday.
Mr Blair will face a mob of protesters when he arrives to give his testimony.
Newly declassified Government papers show Lord Goldsmith, then Attorney General, was initially “pessimistic” that there was sufficient legal basis for military action.
He was urged to change his view by Mr Straw – and eventually ruled it was lawful.
Sir Michael told the inquiry: “He [Straw] took the view that I was being very dogmatic and that international law was pretty vague and that he wasn’t used to people taking such a firm position.”
Ms Wilmshurst told the inquiry the Foreign Office lawyers had been united in their belief of the need for a second UN resolution.
But she said: “It was clear that the Attorney General was not going to stand in the way of the Government.
“For the Attorney to have advised that the conflict would have been unlawful without a second resolution would have been very difficult at that stage I would have thought, handing Saddam Hussein a massive public relations advantage.
“It was extraordinary, frankly, to leave asking him so late in the day. The process that was followed in this case was lamentable.”
Mr Straw’s decision to disregard advice from his legal experts was branded “intolerable” by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, one of his predecessors as Foreign Secretary.
Sir Malcolm said Mr Straw should be put on the spot when he returns to the inquiry on February 8 over his “presumption” in rejecting the advice of Sir Michael Wood and Elizabeth Wilmshurst without seeking expert legal backing for his own view.
The lawyers’ evidence was described as “the final nail in the coffin of the case for a legal war” by Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey.
And Labour MP John McDonnell said it brought the prospect of a trial of Tony Blair and other leaders of the Government at the time of the invasion a step closer.
“The net is clearly closing in on those who took us into the illegal and immoral war,” said Mr McDonnell, chair of the Left-wing Labour Representation Committee.
“The time is coming when the Crown Prosecution Service will be forced to consider the prosecution of those who perpetrated this act of unjust aggression.”
Wednesday January 27,2010
By David Pilditch
Source: Daily Express