The Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war will come under pressure this week to summon Tony Blair's close political friends after it hears explosive evidence from his government's senior legal advisers that the invasion was unlawful.
Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, Sir Michael Wood, chief legal adviser at the Foreign Office, and Elizabeth Wilmshurst, his deputy, all believed an invasion was illegal without a new UN resolution, the inquiry will hear. Goldsmith changed his mind after meeting Lady (Sally) Morgan and Lord Falconer, two of Blair's closest political advisers, on 13 March 2003, four days before he approved a parliamentary answer giving the green light to war.Anyone who thinks that Blair is going be nailed on Friday has not been paying enough attention over the years to who Tony Blair is.
He is a lawyer. And he has ensured, since the first hint of the invasion, that his ass has been covered.
It was very notable in the build up to the war that, whilst George Bush spoke of regime change, Blair was extremely careful never to use that phrase. That was because, despite his own views on whether or not regime change was a good or bad thing, Blair knew that regime change was illegal under international law; so he set about achieving it without ever articulating his true purpose.
Likewise, he was very careful to get people like Goldsmith to give him the advice he wanted to hear, whether they believed it was true or not. He will now claim that he was only acting on the advice which he was given.
This was the same reason that Blair was extremely careful, when talking of Saddam's supposed weaponry, to always insert the words "I believe" into his sentences on the subject. He was very careful never to assert that what he was stating was factual, he always made sure that he had covered himself by insisting - all be it terribly subtly - that he was actually stating his personal opinion.
The man is a snake, and I fully expect that he will slither off the hook this Friday, no matter how many times the Chilcot Inquiry corners him.
Blair got Goldsmith to change his legal opinion, which is why it is Goldsmith who will be skewered here rather than Blair.
Blair will now rely on the fact that he was only following Goldsmith's advice. An example of the way Blair was careful to keep on the right side of the law has already been given to the inquiry.
It is known that Goldsmith met Morgan and Falconer on 13 March. It is understood that no minutes were taken. It is known that Lord Boyce, chief of the defence staff, was demanding "unequivocal" advice that an invasion would be lawful.
After contacting Downing Street, Goldsmith's office told Boyce that an invasion would indeed be "unequivocably" lawful. Goldsmith thus accepted that No 10 could decide Iraq was in breach of its obligations, even though he had told Blair on 7 March that such a decision was up to the UN security council. Though no new evidence emerged that Iraq was still producing WMD, Goldsmith nevertheless told MPs and the cabinet that war was lawful, in a brief parliamentary answer released on 17 March, the eve of the Commons vote.
He has since made it clear that he would have supported invasion with or without the argument of WMD, but that was a rare blip, something which he will, no doubt, cover with obfuscation before the Inquiry on Friday.
Goldsmith had also warned Blair on 7 March that "regime change cannot be the objective of military action". The Chilcot inquiry has heard evidence that Blair backed regime change after meeting George Bush in Texas, in April 2002, though in public he and his ministers insisted disarmament was the objective.
"From September  onwards, every statement that comes from the prime minister and any other minister of the government is entirely about disarmament ... disarmament, disarmament, disarmament," Lord Turnbull, cabinet secretary at the time, told the inquiry.
People getting themselves terribly excited that Blair is about to be cornered are ignoring all the work that he did prior to the invasion. Blair will slither off the hook before the Inquiry, because he has laid the groundwork for that escape long in advance.
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