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Legality of Iraq war JOHN Major is becoming something of a bellwether. Whenever he emerges from the obscurity of whatever else he is doing these days to make a statement on public policy it is an indication that he thinks matters are getting out of hand and need his elder-statesman touch. Thus his opinion given on Sunday's Breakfast With Frost that the publication of the Attorney General's full advice on the legality of the Iraq war would “let the poison out of the system” underlined that this issue has, as they say, got legs. Actually, his words can be read in two ways. Does he think that the “poison” is in the controversy about the legal advice or in the advice itself? If the former, his view is favourable to the Prime Minister; if the latter it is damaging to him. The position now is that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties want publication; Michael Ancram and Menzies Campbell, speaking on the Today programme yesterday morning, made this clear. If there is no change in the Government's position before tomorrow morning both Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy should put questions to the Prime Minister on the matter, thus bringing the Iraq war back into the House of Commons from which it has been disgracefully absent for three weeks. The Government's position is the defensive one of “precedent”. Legal advice to ministers has always been confidential, it argues, and there are no grounds for breaking this rule now. The difficulty for ministers in sticking to this position is that the Prime Minister himself broke this rule and created a precedent when he published a summary of the Attorney-General's advice in the run-up to the Iraq war last March. At the time many people questioned whether the summary told the whole story of what Lord Goldsmith's said and these doubts have persisted and grown as a result of the strange behaviour of the Crown Prosecution Service in withdrawing its case against Katharine Gun last week under the Official Secrets Act; her lawyers had asked to see the full legal justification for the war, not just the summary. One of the last redoubts in the Government's defences may have fallen yesterday when a Times leading article joined the majority of the press in arguing for the Attorney-General's full legal advice to be published on the grounds that “legal advice is not the same as political advice” and that the relationship between the Attorney-General and the Government does not necessarily enjoy the same privilege of confidentiality as that existing in other lawyer-client relationships. THE Prime Minister has only himself to blame for the difficulty in which he now finds himself. The main reason that he cannot persuade others to “move on” from Iraq is that he has lost the public's trust and therefore each and every aspect of the case he made for the war is being re-examined. Furthermore new evidence is coming to hand all the time. For instance, it became clear last week that Elizabeth Wilmshurst, who was deputy legal adviser at the Foreign Office until last March, resigned because she and her team believed that the war was illegal. It has also emerged that the Attorney General may have had his back stiffened by assistance from Professor Christopher Greenwood of the London School of Economics, one of the few international lawyers known to believe that the war would be legal without a second UN resolution - the point on which Lord Goldsmith may well have had doubts. Lord Goldsmith may have needed help - he was a commercial lawyer and Labour Party supporter when Tony Blair plucked him from obscurity, gave him a peerage and made him Attorney General. Before being plunged into the arcane intricacies of Security Council resolutions on Iraq he had no professional experience whatsoever of international affairs. At the time that the summary of Lord Goldsmith's advice was published some doubts were expressed about it but, on the whole, people were disinclined to think that an Attorney General or a Prime Minister would actually be deliberately economical with the truth. We now know differently and, to use the only phrase for which Mr Iain Duncan Smith will be remembered, “Nobody believes a word the Prime Minister says.” BRITAIN's most senior civil servant, Sir Andrew Turnbull, Secretary of the Cabinet and Head of the Home Civil Service, would make a very good secondary school headmaster. Putting his summary judgement on the term report of a difficult student he would be able to write: “I have to admit to being extremely disappointed at your behaviour.” This, believe it or not, is how he opened his letter to Clare Short complaining about claims she made “which damage the interests of the United Kingdom”. We read a lot these days about the politicisation of the Civil Service and it is hard to believe that Sir Andrew is not a victim of it since his letter must surely have been written at the request of, or at least with the knowledge of, the Prime Minister. Even so, for a Civil Servant, no matter how senior, to address a former Cabinet Minister in this way is extraordinary. Might it not have been better to start with a “With respect...” or an “I hope you will understand why I find it necessary...”? Not that any such formula would have reduced the foolishness of the claim that Ms Short has damaged the UK's interests. The matter complained of was her revelation that either the United States or Britain, or perhaps both, had been bugging the Secretary General of the United Nations. It is not in the UK's interests, or anyone else's interests for that matter, that Kofi Annan should be bugged. It should be a condition of membership of the Security Council that member states undertake not to eavesdrop on his office, or home, or car. If there is one place in the world which should be free of such surveillance it is the presence of the Secretary General. Clare Short has done well to make known just how little respect Britain and other major powers have for the spirit and letter of the UN Charter.


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