Iraq war was illegal and we said so, lawyers will claim

Tony Blair

Chilcot inquiry: two senior Foreign Office lawyers could drop Blair and Goldsmith in it

BY Jack Bremer LAST UPDATED AT 06:45 ON Mon 25 Jan 2010

Two former government lawyers are set to blow the Chilcot Inquiry wide open tomorrow. In the week that Tony Blair and his good friend Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney General, are due to appear before the panel to explain why Britain went to war against Iraq in March 2003 - Goldsmith on Thursday, Blair on Friday - the two lawyers could help Chilcot put Britain's former prime minister on the spot.

Quite simply, the two lawyers, who for different reasons have never publicly told their stories, will say that they always advised that war against Iraq was illegal without a second UN resolution and that Blair went ahead anyway because he was determined to help George Bush remove Saddam Hussein.

The two lawyers are Sir Michael Wood, who was the senior Foreign Office lawyer at the time, and his deputy, Elizabeth Wilmshurst. They are both fascinating witnesses - for quite different reasons.

Among friends, Wood is supposed to have made no secret ever since the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 that it would not be legal without a second UN resolution. Publicly, however, he has never broken his silence on the matter.

A year after the invasion, he was awarded a knighthood. In 2006 he left the Foreign Office to become a barrister in private chambers in London.

Yesterday, a senior legal source told the Observer that the advice Wood gave "consistently" to Lord Goldsmith was that war would be unlawful.

"The important thing is that Foreign Office advice was given consistently in one way, and then the Attorney General, right at the end, gave advice to the contrary," the source told the newspaper. "That is what will come out."

It is also understood that Wood's legal advice from 2003 could be published for the first time by the Chilcot inquiry.

Elizabeth Wilmshurst is in a very different position - because she she was convinced the planned war was "a crime of aggression" and chose to resign on principle from the Foreign Office on the eve of the invasion. Until now, she has never given a public account of her decision to quit.

According to a report in the Independent on Sunday, she will tell the Chilcot inquiry that she was not "a voice in the wilderness'
in harbouring doubts about an invasion and that many senior Foreign Office colleagues agreed with her.

If both Wood and Wilmshurst say tomorrow what their friends are expecting of them, the Chilcot inquiry might finally get to the truth of what persuaded Blair, against public opinion and legal advice, to attack Iraq. Some believe it will also take him a step closer to being charged one day for war crimes. · 

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