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Did Blair lie?

Thursday, 28 April 2005

I had no real idea whether Blair lied about the advice he was given by Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, about the legality of the war in Iraq. Now that the government has published the full text of Goldsmith’s advice [PDF file] I’m even more confused.

At first glance it looks much as if Blair lied. The original advice from Goldsmith, on 7 March 2003, was full of warnings that the war might well be illegal yet 10 days later Goldsmith told Parliament that Iraq was clearly still in breach of its obligations to the UN. The war was thus, in his opinion, legal.

Richard Norton Taylor asks what happened during those 10 days to change Goldsmith’s mind so completely. The answer he comes up with is that Lord Boyce, chief of defence staff, asked for an unequivocal assurance that the war would be legal. Norton Taylor says that what then happened was that, after a lot of charging around Whitehall, Goldsmith asked Blair if he thought Iraq was still in breach of its obligations. When Blair told him that he was sure Goldsmith then told Boyce that invading Iraq would be just hunky-dory.

A lie was told but just who was it who told it? Blair or Goldsmith? Blair had asked Goldsmith for his opinion. Ultimately though, Goldsmith went along with Blair’s own opinion. That’s completely nuts. What was the point in Blair asking Goldsmith for his opinion if, in the end, Goldsmith is going to simply go along with Blair? Who lied? I really don’t know. Perhaps no one did. Someone, somewhere is lacking in integrity but did anyone actually lie? It’s impossible for me to say. The whole episode reminds me of one of those cartoon vacuum cleaners which suck themselves up into nothing.

Posted 28 April 2005, 23:01 BST