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Blair harried into U-turn.

Byline: By Zoe Hughes Political Editor

Tony Blair made a dramatic U-turn yesterday by publishing the full legal advice on which he took the country to war in Iraq.

Despite repeated refusals to reveal the advice given by Attorney General Lord Goldsmith on March 7, 2003, Mr Blair was finally forced to give in to demands after most of it had been leaked to the Press.

As the Prime Minister tried to regain the initiative, he warned critics it was not the "smoking gun" they were looking for but merely a "damp squib".

The 13-page document has revealed Lord Goldsmith set out a cautious approach to the legality of the war, saying there was a "reasonable case" for military action but warning it would only be legal in an effort to secure the disarmament of Iraq ( not regime change.

The best course of action, he said, would be through a second UN resolution because there were a number of ways opponents of the war could sue the Government and "we cannot be certain that they would not succeed".

This advice ( never seen by the Cabinet ( was followed 10 days later by the Attorney General's final verdict that declared the invasion would be lawful. War started on March 20.

During Labour's business manifesto launch, Mr Blair said he had worked his socks off to get a second United Nations resolution and he had to "live with the consequences" of his decision.

But he admitted he could never convince critics of the war of the need to take action. "All I ask them to do is understand I had to take a decision," he said. "I did my best to take the right decision for the country and I cannot apologise for that decision, because I think the world is a better place with Saddam Hussein in prison."

Critics lined up to attack the Prime Minister's credibility. Reg Keys, whose son Tom died in the Iraq war and who is standing as an Independent candidate against Mr Blair in Sedgefield, said it was time for the Prime Minister to resign.

"Whatever the Prime Minister and his representatives say about conditions changing between those two dates, he must realise that he has a credibility problem on the political and the individual level which would take a miracle to resolve."

Berwick Liberal Democrat candidate Alan Beith said Mr Blair should have declared to the country "how uncertain the basis on which he made the decision for war" was. "This advice should have been published a long time ago, but it does show the very argument which the Prime Minister now uses to justify war in Iraq ( to get rid of Saddam Hussein ( is one which the Attorney General said couldn't be used."

He was backed by his leader Charles Kennedy, who said: "This is not a damp squib for those who have lost loved ones in the service of the British armed forces or for the families of thousands of Iraqi innocents who have been killed."

Last night, North-East Conservatives unveiled new billboard posters attacking Mr Blair over Iraq, stealth taxes and immigration, saying: "It's now or never to tell him what you think."

Tynemouth Tory candidate Michael MacIntyre said the issue of trust was at the heart of the election. "The Iraq revelations prove he cannot be trusted and North-East people should remember that when voting on bread-and-butter issues that affect their everyday lives."

Party leader Michael Howard took the issue one step further saying the advice was "devastating" for Mr Blair because it proved "he was not telling the truth".

Labour last night said Iraq was an issue coming up on the doorstep, with Cabinet minister and Durham North West candidate Hilary Armstrong saying tough decisions had to be taken.

"Leadership demands taking decisions when sometimes you may not want to. Everyone wanted the second [UN] resolution. We worked exceptionally hard for it and at the end of the day, we had to make a decision."

Newcastle Central Labour candidate Jim Cousins, who voted against the war and who has repeatedly called for the Attorney General's advice to be published in full, welcomed the disclosure but said it was very much as expected, "that is to say, without a second resolution from the UN there was and indeed is a possibility that at some point this issue will go in front of an international court.

"A lot of the debate [in the Attorney General's advice] was made among lawyers in 2002, so there is nothing new here but it is a good piece of housekeeping and it's right that it's in the public arena."
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 29, 2005
Words:772
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