Blair stands firm on legality of Iraq war
Last Modified: 28 Apr 2005
Prime Minister Tony Blair has dismissed the "smoking gun" of leaks of legal advice on the Iraq war as a "damp squib".
And in a surprise move, transcripts of Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith's advice on the legality of the conflict have been released following the publication on Channel 4 News of a leaked summary.
Mr Blair told reporters: "You have probably got it all anyway. I see no reason not to publish it.
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"It does not matter what I do, what I publish or what I say - there will be some people who will always want to re-try this argument again in terms of my integrity.
"I had a decision to take and I took it. That is leadership. There will be people who will forever more dispute that. So be it."
Opposition parties launched renewed attacks on Mr Blair over the legality of the war after leaked documents showed Lord Goldsmith initially had reservations about the case for conflict.
But the Prime Minister insisted the advice he received was that the war would be legal. He said: "The key thing was the Attorney-General's advice that it was lawful to proceed.
"This so-called smoking gun has turned out to be a damp squib because he did advise it was lawful to proceed. How many times have we been over this? People go on about honesty and integrity.
"The truth is that people going on about the Attorney-General's advice and trying to suggest to the public that he advised it was unlawful, when he did not, are people opposed completely to the war.
"They were opposed at the time. They are opposed now. I don't disrespect their position. I just wish they would understand I took a different view and instead of trying to frame this debate in terms of my integrity and my character, understand it was a decision this leader had to take for this country.
"The people are the boss at this election. They will have to make their minds up about it and about my character and my integrity."
But the Tories and the Liberal Democrats are determined to make more political gain over the controversy.
Conservative leader Michael Howard said: "When Mr Blair said 'I have never lied' he was not telling the truth."
His Liberal Democrat counterpart Charles Kennedy said it was time for Mr Blair to "come clean" with the British public.
The row erupted with the leak of a previously secret document which showed that just days before the conflict, Lord Goldsmith could not be sure the case for invasion would stand up in court.
His legal advice was given to the Prime Minister on March 7. It lists a number of concerns, including that UK troops risked prosecution in the international courts.
In the document, Lord Goldsmith said the "safest legal course" would be to secure a new UN Security Council resolution authorising war.
Yet on March 17, he gave the go-ahead in a statement to Parliament, saying that the war was legal.
In the March 7 document, he said he believed that the UK and US would need "strong factual grounds" and "hard and compelling evidence" of Iraqi breaches of UN resolutions before any military action was taken.
"In these circumstances, I remain of the opinion that the safest legal course would be to secure the adoption of a further resolution to authorise the use of force," it said.
None of the caveats appeared in Lord Goldsmith's much briefer legal case which was presented to Parliament just days before the war began.
Mr Howard said: "We've been told by Mr Blair that on March 17 - just ten days later - the advice given by the Attorney General to Cabinet was clear and it hadn't changed.
"We now know beyond any doubt that it had changed.
"So the first question Mr Blair has to answer is: why did he say advice hadn't changed when we know it had?
"The second question that needs to be answered is: what or who changed the Attorney General's legal advice?
"The issue of Iraq boils down to one very simple question: if you cannot trust Mr Blair on the decision to take the country to war, the most important decision that any Prime Minister can take, how can you trust Mr Blair on anything else, ever again?"
Lord Goldsmith has issued a statement saying he was standing by his opinion that it was legal for Britain to go to war.
He said the document showed how he had gone through the complex arguments over the legality of military action before concluding that, in his judgement, it would be lawful.