The attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, faced calls to resign last night as Tony Blair’s legal justification for going to war against Iraq began to unravel.
The Prime Minister once again refused calls yesterday to apologise for the Iraq conflict as some of his own backbenchers questioned whether he had misrepresented intelligence and gone to war illegally.
MPs said the “facts” about weapons of mass destruction on which the Government based its legal justification for war had been completely demolished by the Iraq Survey Group, which found there were no stockpiles.
A senior figure on the Butler inquiry into the intelligence failings over Iraq told The Independent that Lord Goldsmith “should consider his position” after the withdrawal of the intelligence claims that Saddam could ready weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes.
Before he gave his legal opinion about the war, Lord Goldsmith had asked Mr Blair for assurances that there were “strong factual grounds” backed up by “hard evidence” for concluding that Saddam had failed to comply with UN resolution 1441 requiring the Iraqi dictator to destroy his weapons of mass destruction. Lord Goldsmith had been reassured by the Prime Minister, but MPs last night said those grounds had been blown apart by the withdrawal of the 45-minute claim.
It was also disclosed yesterday that two senior Foreign Office legal advisers, in addition to its deputy legal adviser, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, went to Lord Goldsmith warning him of their fears that the war would be illegal, and subsequently resigned from the civil service.
A senior source on the Butler inquiry said: “The Attorney General must now consider his position. He is the one who gave the legal opinion, and it was challenged at the time by three legal officers.”
In the Commons, one furious Labour MP said last night “We are going to get Blair over this.”
Peter Mandelson, the European commissioner and close ally of Mr Blair, also appeared to distance himself from the Prime Minister’s decision to invade Iraq without international agreement. Speaking in Budapest, he said: “The insurgency in Iraq would today have been a lesser problem had a second UN resolution been agreed.”