Channel 4 News has obtained the excised part of the resignation letter by Government legal advisor Elizabeth Wilmshurst that was released by the Foreign Office last month under the Freedom of Information Act.

The missing section, which was omitted from the FOIA response on “public interest grounds” to protect the privacy of the advice given by the attorney general, appears to show that the Government’s chief legal advisor, Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, “did change his mind about the legality of invading Iraq — deciding suddenly that it was legal, just when the government needed him to.”

The resignation letter, dated 18 March 2003, reads as follows with Channel 4′s material inserted in the relevant place:

  1. I regret that I cannot agree that it is lawful to use force against Iraq without a second Security Council resolution to revive the authorisation given in SCR 678. I do not need to set out my reasoning; you are aware of it. [My views accord with the advice that has been given consistently in this Office (the foreign office legal team office) before and after the adoption of UN security council resolution 1441 and with what the Attorney General gave us to understand was his view prior to his letter of 7 March. (The view expressed in that letter has of course changed again into what is now the official line.)] I cannot in conscience go along with advice – within the Office or to the public or Parliament – which asserts the legitimacy of military action without such a resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances which are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law.
  2. I therefore need to leave the Office: my views on the legitimacy of the action in Iraq would not make it possible for me to continue my role as a Deputy Legal Adviser or my work more generally. For example in the context of the International Criminal Court, negotiations on the crime of aggression begin again this year. I am therefore discussing with Alan Charlton whether I may take approved early retirement. In case that is not possible this letter should be taken as constituting notice of my resignation.
  3. I joined the Office in 1974. It has been a privilege to work here. I leave with very great sadness.