Geoff Hoon, the former defence secretary for Sir Tony Blair, claims he was told to ‘burn’ a note which said that invading Iraq could break international law. In 2005 and 2015, reports emerged that claimed Sir Tony had attempted to do away with evidence that would see it proved he had received advice about the illegality of the invasion. Now Hoon, who worked closely with Sir Tony during his time in government, is saying these reports are true.
The initial reports surrounding the legal advice from Sir Tony’s then-attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, were dismissed as ‘nonsense’ by the former prime minister at the time. Hoon, however, has repeated the allegations in his memoir See How They Run, which was released last November. It is the latest claim in a long line of criticism over Sir Tony’s decision to lead the UK into war with Iraq in March 2003.
Mr Hoon wrote: “British troops must act in accordance with the law. I was under pressure from Mike Boyce, the Chief of the Defence Staff, to provide him with the clear legal authority allowing him and the forces under his command to take action.
“Without a clear mandate in the form of a second UN resolution authorising the use of force, the UK’s participation in any invasion depended on a complex interaction involving several not entirely consistent UN resolutions.
“It was the responsibility of Lord Goldsmith to resolve the question. He produced a very long and very detailed legal opinion that only sophisticated scholars of international law would understand.”
He went on: “I was sent a copy from Downing St under conditions of considerable secrecy. I was told that it was for my eyes only and that I should not discuss its contents with anyone else. I had no idea who else had received a copy. I read the opinion several times; it was not an easy read. Eventually, I came to the view that the attorney general had decided that invading Iraq would be lawful if the Prime Minister believed that it was in the UK’s national interest to do so.
“It was not exactly the ringing endorsement that the Chief of the Defence Staff was looking for, and in any event, I was not strictly allowed to show it to him or even discuss it with him. Moreover, when my Principal Private Secretary, Peter Watkins, called Jonathan Powell in Downing St (Sir Tony’s chief of staff at the time) and asked what he should now do with the document, he was told in no uncertain terms that he should “burn it”.
“Peter Watkins was the very model of a principled British civil servant, and that instruction worried him greatly. He asked me what we should do and I agreed that we should lock the document securely into an MoD safe to which only he had access. For all I know it is probably still there.”
Lord Goldsmith did a u-turn 10 days later and compiled a new legal opinion, arguing it was lawful to use force against Iraq. It has long been suspected Labour put him under pressure to do this, reports The Metro.
It comes as more than 700,000 people have petitioned to have the recently bestowed knighthood of Sir Tony Blair removed. The war he led the UK into left more than 600 British troops dead and killed tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many believe the war was unjustified after the Chilcott Inquiry – which looked into the UK’s involvement in the Iraq war – concluded in 2016 that the former Labour leader overplayed ‘flawed’ intelligence to warrant the invasion. This was referring to the notorious dossier which claimed the UK was ’45 minutes from doom’ because of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.
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