Politics Summary: Thursday, July 1st

Secret documents released yesterday show the "grave reservations" of Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith about the legality of war.

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Secret documents released yesterday show the “grave reservations” of Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith about the legality of war. The Independent says that the documents – which reveal Goldsmith’s “remarkable U-turn” – suggest the basis for the war was “built on sand”: “The drafts of legal advice and letters sent to the Prime Minister by Lord Goldsmith had been kept secret despite repeated calls for them to be published. Yesterday they were released by the Chilcot Inquiry into the war, after the head of the Civil Service, Sir Gus O’Donnell, stated that the “long-standing convention” for such documents to be kept confidential had to be waived because the issue of the legality of the Iraq war had a ‘unique status’. It had been known that Lord Goldsmith had initially advised the government that an attack on Iraq would not be legal without a fresh United Nations resolution. However, just before the US-led invasion he presented a new set of opinions saying that a new resolution was not needed after all.”

The documents also reveal Tony Blair’s “irritation and frustration” at being told going to war would be illegal, reports the Telegraph: “On one note, written six weeks before the March 2003 invasion, the then-prime minister scrawled “I just do not understand this” alongside a warning from Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, that military force would be illegal without a fresh United Nations resolution. In separate handwriting at the top of the note, a No 10 aide wrote: ‘specifically said we did not need further advice [on] this matter.'” While the Mail reports claims that former weapons inspector Dr David Kelly “couldn’t have slit his wrist as he was too weak”.

Elsewhere, The Guardian reports that a British firm “bribed Iraqi officials” to overlook the effects of leaded petrol on children’s health and keep buying a toxic fuel additive. It reports that: “Paul Jennings, until last year chief executive of the Octel chemical works near Ellesmere Port, Merseyside, and his predecessor, Dennis Kerrison, exported tonnes of tetra ethyl lead (TEL), to Iraq. TEL is banned from cars in western countries because of links with brain damage to children. Iraq is believed to be the only country that still adds lead to petrol… The firm’s Lebanese agent, Osama Naaman, was extradited and agreed this week to plead guilty and co-operate with US prosecutors. Although the US department of justice has run much of the case, the Serious Fraud Office is keen to claim jurisdiction.” Senior Iraqi oil ministry officials are accused of taking bribes throughout the occupation, with Ahmad al-Shamma, the deputy oil minister, alleged to have been given a free holiday in Thailand. The bribes, though, could date back even further – before the war. The report adds: “US prosecutors say multi-million dollar bribes to Iraq were agreed in 2001-3.” The Independent, meanwhile, reports on the “the great Iraqi oil rush”, with Iraq, in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico disaster, looking to a spectacular oil boom “to revive its political fortunes”.

The Telegraph reports on Nick Clegg’s announcement of the ‘Your Freedom‘ initiative, set to herald “a shift of power away from the state to the people”. The deputy prime minister wants members of the public to nominate unpopular laws they want to be scrapped, saying “people, not policy-makers” are the best judges of which “unnecessary laws” should be repealed. Clegg says: “We are calling for your ideas on how to protect our hard-won liberties and repeal unnecessary laws. And we want to know how best to scale back excessive regulation that denies businesses the space to innovate. We’re hoping for virtual mailbags full of suggestions. Every single one will be read, with the best put to Parliament. It is a radically different approach. One based on trust. Because it isn’t up to government to tell people how to live their lives.” The three areas he wants the public to focus on are: laws that have eroded civil liberties; regulations that stifle the way charities and businesses work; and laws that are not required and which are likely to see law-abiding citizens criminalised. The Telegraph suggests that: “Among the rules likely to be targeted is that allowing the fingerprinting of children without parental consent. There will undoubtedly also be calls to repeal the Human Rights Act… There are also likely to be lobbying campaigns to repeal bans on hunting. But such highly contested laws are unlikely to be included in Mr Clegg’s final list which he will include in what is being called the latest Great Reform Act.”

The Financial Times reports the European Union’s agreement to back tough restrictions on bankers’ bonuses. It reports that: “Under legislation expected to pass the European parliament next week, between 40 and 60 per cent of bonuses would have to be deferred for three to five years and half the upfront bonus would have to be paid in shares or in other securities linked to the bank’s performance. As a result, the cash portion would be limited to between 20 per cent and 30 per cent, far tighter the limits currently used by most members of the 27-nation bloc.” The FT adds: “The UK Financial Services Authority, which already has a remuneration code in place, said it was studying how the proposed directive would affect its practices. Treasury officials in the UK said the proposal were in line with last weekend’s G20 communique and Basel agreements but that it was important that they were implemented ‘in a co-ordinated manner in all major financial centres’.” Labour MEP Arlene McCarthy, who steered the legislation through the European Parliament, said the law will “end incentives for excessive risk-taking”, With European Union internal market commissioner Michel Barnier describing the new rules as “a step in the right direction”.

And The Independent reports backbench Tory MP Philip Hollobone’s call for the burka to be banned in public. The MP for Kettering is tabling a private members’ Bill called the ‘Face Covering (Regulations) Bill’ which seeks to ban “certain facial coverings” from being worn in public. There is no realistic prospect, however, of ever becoming law, and is highly unlikely ever to be debated – though it has been printed. Hollobone says: “I think it is inappropriate to cover your face in public, whether it’s a burka, a balaclava or anything else… We are never going to get along with having a fully integrated society if a substantial minority insist on concealing their identity from everyone else.” The Indy describes Hollobone as “one of the most right wing” MPs in Parliament, adding: “The UK Independence Party chose not to field a candidate against Mr Hollobone at the election because his views on Europe are so close to those of Ukip.”

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