The recently published diaries of Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former “spin doctor” who had been at his side from well before he became Prime Minister, reveal that Blair arranged to keep the facts about the legal case for war in Iraq from his own Cabinet, and prevailed upon his Attorney General, Peter Goldsmith, to present only one side of the issue so as to undermine opponents of the war within cabinet:
Lord Goldsmith presented a longer legal opinion to Mr Blair on 7 March 2003 in which he said he believed there was a “reasonable case” in favour of military action, but that “there was also a case to be made the other way”. According to Mr Campbell’s diaries, Lord Goldsmith warned Mr Blair that he did not want the Prime Minister to “present it too positively” in favour of military action because there was a “case to be made the other way”. Mr Campbell wrote: “TB also made it clear he did not particularly want Goldsmith to launch a detailed discussion at Cabinet, though it would have to happen at some time, and ministers would want to cross-examine. With the mood as it was, and with Robin [Cook] and Clare [Short] operating as they were, he knew if there was any nuance at all, they would be straight out saying the advice was that it was not legal, the AG was casting doubt on the legal basis for war. Peter Goldsmith was clear that though a lot depended on what happened, he was casting doubt in some circumstances and if Cabinet had to approve the policy of going to war, he had to be able to put the reality to them.”
But Mr Campbell added that this was blocked by Mr Blair and his gatekeeper, Sally Morgan, during a meeting of Mr Blair and his closest aides on 11 March: “Sally said it was for TB to speak to Cabinet, and act on the AG’s advice. He would simply say the advice said there was a reasonable case.”
Following the 11 March meeting, Lord Goldsmith produced a new, one-page legal opinion which put the “reasonable case” for war – which was discussed at Cabinet and used in Parliament to justify military action.
This doesn’t prove that Blair’s mind was not always made up about following whatever Bush wanted, and that he simply “believed the intelligence” (although I believe his mind was made up and he took very little convincing), but it does demonstrate his determination to go to war and his disregard for the legal implications: he knew he might be committing a crime. It also reveals his total contempt for the Labour party: his own cabinet was just a nuisance, a group of people that needed deceiving to go along with his will.
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