Tony Blair has struggled to avoid tough questions about the legalities of his decision to invade Iraq. Speaking at the Iraq Inquiry this afternoon (29 January), he said that the Attorney General's last-minute change of mind was legally sufficient.
Blair said that “lawyers take very different views of issues” despite evidence that the Foreign Office’s legal team had been united in advising him that the invasion would be illegal.
The former Prime Minister gave the appearance of regarding legal issues as of low importance when asked about former Attorney General Peter Goldsmith’s assertion that he was not sure if a court would find the war legal. Lyne asked if such uncertain advice was sufficient to commit to the “invasion of another country”.
Blair simply replied that “What I needed to know from him [Goldsmith] in the end was - was he going to say this was legal?”
Goldsmith had originally said that a second United Nations resolution was needed to make the war legal, but Blair admitted that he had not expressed this view to George Bush at the time, saying that the British government had still been discussing the issue.
But Blair appeared flustered and confused his words several times as he was questioned by Roderick Lyne about the role played by Goldsmith, who changed his mind immediately before the invasion to say that it was legal.
Blair insisted that Goldsmith “came to the view that on balance the breach of resolution 1441 by Saddam Hussein was sufficient”.
Lyne retorted “Well, he asked you to say that it was sufficient”.
When Lyne asked if Goldsmith’s change of mind came as a “considerable relief” to Blair, the former Prime Minister admitted that it had.
Asked why he had pushed for a second UN resolution if he were believed it were not necessary, Blair stated that it would have been helpful “politically” but was not legally required.
Blair insisted that “all countries that took the military action believed they had a sound legal basis”, ignoring the reality that some, such as the Dutch government, had made use of Goldsmith’s judgment in their own conclusions.
While Roderick Lyne followed up Blair’s answers several times, some will be disappointed that he did not ask Blair if he would have gone to war even if Goldsmith’s legal advice had not changed.
Peter Goldsmith has now acquired something of a reputation for last-minute changes of mind. In court two years ago, it was revealed that in 2006, Goldsmith had initially resisted Blair’s attempts to cut short a criminal investigation into BAE’s Saudi arms deals, before agreeing with Blair in his final decision.