Tony Blair has said he disregarded his top legal adviser’s warning that attacking Iraq would be illegal without further United Nations (UN) backing because the guidance was “provisional”.
The former prime minister “held to the position” that another UN Security Council resolution explicitly supporting military action was unnecessary despite being told the opposite by attorney general Lord Goldsmith.
Mr Blair said he believed Lord Goldsmith would come around to his interpretation of the legal position once he knew the full history of the negotiations behind UN Security Council resolution 1441, which declared Iraq in “material breach” of its obligations to disarm.
The revelations came as Mr Blair faced a second day of questioning before the official inquiry into the Iraq War about his decision to take Britain into the conflict.
Lord Goldsmith told the ex-prime minister in a six-page draft legal opinion on January 14 2003 that resolution 1441 was not enough on its own to justify the use of force against Iraq.
Mr Blair said in a statement to the inquiry: “I had not yet got to the stage of a formal request for advice and neither had he got to the point of formally giving it. So I was continuing to hold to the position that another resolution was not necessary.”
The former premier said he was aware of Lord Goldsmith’s concerns about the legality of attacking Iraq.
But he added: “I believed that he would, once he was abreast of the British but most of all the US negotiating history, conclude that 1441 meant what it said: Saddam had a final opportunity to comply, failure to do so was a material breach, and that revived the earlier resolutions authorising force.”
Mr Blair was asked about a memo, dated January 30 2003, in which Lord Goldsmith repeated that resolution 1441 did not authorise the use of military force against Iraq on its own. A scribbled note next to this sentence in the former prime minister’s handwriting says: “I just don’t understand this.”
Referring to this comment, Mr Blair said in his statement: “I did not understand how he could reach the conclusion that a further decision was required when expressly we had refused such language in 1441.”