Nick Clegg: Iraq War "Illegal"
by Charles Lemos, Thu Jul 22, 2010 at 12:01:24 AM EDT
Nick Clegg, the British Deputy Prime Minister and the leader of the Liberal Democrats, finds himself at the centre of a firestorm of controversy after comments he made suggested the Iraq war was illegal. Clegg's gaffe occurred during the Prime Minister's Questions from the Dispatch Box of the House of Commons during a heated exchange with Jack Straw, the former British Foreign Minister during the Labour government.
The story in The Guardian:
Nick Clegg was tonight forced to clarify his position on the Iraq war after he stood up at the dispatch box of the House of Commons and pronounced the invasion illegal.
The deputy prime minister insisted he was speaking in a personal capacity, as a leading international lawyer warned that the statement by a government minister in such a formal setting could increase the chances of charges against Britain in international courts.
Philippe Sands, professor of law at University College London, said: "A public statement by a government minister in parliament as to the legal situation would be a statement that an international court would be interested in, in forming a view as to whether or not the war was lawful."
The warning came after a faltering performance by Clegg in the Commons when he stood in for David Cameron at prime minister's questions. The deputy prime minister made an initial mistake when he announced that the government would close the Yarl's Wood centre as it ends the detention of children awaiting deportation. The Home Office was forced to issue a statement saying that the family unit at Yarl's Wood would close but that the rest of the centre would remain open.
Shortly before that slip-up, Clegg threw the government's position concerning the legality of the Iraq war into confusion when, at the end of heated exchanges with Jack Straw, foreign secretary at the time of the war, Clegg said: "We may have to wait for his memoirs, but perhaps one day he will account for his role in the most disastrous decision of all: the illegal invasion of Iraq."
Clegg's remarks could be legally significant because he was standing at the government dispatch box in the Commons.
As Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg was standing at the PMQ in for Prime Minister David Cameron who was in Washington visiting President Obama. It was Clegg's first appearance at the Dispatch Box and likely to be a memorable one.
While the Liberal Democrats were the only mainstream party to oppose the decision to topple Saddam Hussein, both the Tories and the Labour government of Tony Blair supported the decision to invade Iraq. A spokesman for the British Foreign Ministry said: "The Deputy Prime Minister was expressing his long-held view about the legality of the Iraq conflict. His views on the matter are very well known and widely documented. With regards to the Coalition Government's official position on the legal basis for the Iraq conflict, it awaits the outcome of the inquiry being led by Sir John Chilcot."