When Nick Clegg stood at the despatch box today and accused Jack Straw of being partly to blame for the “illegal invasion of Iraq”, you could almost see his Tory colleagues behind him wince.
Clegg had said this many times before, and it has long been the party’s official position (although it has never been approved by the full Lib Dem conference, so can’t be described as “policy”). But of course, it has never been the Tories’ position. Having voted for the invasion, the party still thinks it was legal.
Number 10 was quick to tell reporters this afternoon that Clegg was speaking “in a personal capacity”. But if he wasn’t articulating the government’s position, what is the government’s position?
Nick Clegg’s office has helpfully issued this statement:
“The Deputy Prime Minister was expressing his long-held view about the legality of the Iraq conflict.
“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.”
So that now makes three positions: the Tories think the Iraq invasion was legal, the Lib Dems think it was illegal but the coalition government is waiting for the outcome of the Chilcot inquiry to make its mind up.
I don’t know about you but at times I find the new politics very confusing.
UPDATE: Timothy Johnston (see comments below) has helpfully pointed out that, as Paul Waugh says in the Evening Standard, the Chilcot inquiry will not rule on the legality of the war. it will instead rule on the legal basis of the war (in its words ” the process by which legal advice was sought and provided and will consider the international law arguments and the way they were presented“). However I am told that once it has ruled on the legal basis, the coalition will then consider a joint position on whether or not it was legal.
Personally my guess is that all they will do is accept Chilcot’s findings, but make no further statement on whether or not the war was legal. This seems to be the only way the two vastly different positions can be accommodated – essentially by fudging the issue.