Tony Blair had resolved to send British troops into action alongside US forces eight months before the Iraq War began, despite a clear warning from the Foreign Office that the conflict could be illegal.
A damning minute leaked to a Sunday newspaper reveals that in July 2002, a few weeks after meeting George Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Mr Blair summoned his closest aides for what amounted to a council of war. The minute reveals the head of British intelligence reported that President Bush had firmly made up his mind to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein, adding that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy".
At the same time, a document obtained by this newspaper reveals the Foreign Office legal advice given to Mr Blair in March 2002, before he travelled to meet Mr Bush at his Texas ranch. It contains many of the reservations listed nearly a year later by the Attorney General in his confidential advice to the Prime Minister, which the Government was forced to publish last week, including the warning that the US government took a different view of international law from Britain or virtually any other country.
The advice, also put before the July meeting, was drawn up in part by Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the Foreign Office's deputy legal adviser, who resigned on the eve of war in protest at what she called a "crime of aggression".
The minute revealed last night was of a meeting held in Downing Street on 23 July 2002. Signed by the Prime Minister's foreign policy adviser, Matthew Rycroft. It concluded: "We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action. But we needed a fuller picture of US planning before we could take any further decisions."
The minute records that the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, had warned that the case against Saddam was "thin". He suggested that the Iraqi dictator should be forced into a corner by demanding the return of the UN weapons inspectors: if he refused, or the inspectors found WMD, there would be good cause for war.
The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith - who took part in the meeting - warned then that "the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action". But the Prime Minister countered that "regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD".
This leaked minute confirms that many world leaders knew well in advance what the Bush administration kept secret from the American public until spring of 2003, that the US intended to invade Iraq. This of course makes even more understandable the consistent opposition and mistrust the Bush administration encountered in the buildup to war, especially in Europe; many leaders in Europe were in a position to know that the war already had the green light, and therefore the posturing before the UN by the Bush administration must have been deeply galling for them.
The minute also demonstrates that Blair already had foreseen many of the main lines of opposition that would emerge, and Blair had designed a plan or accepted somebody else's plan to thwart that opposition by maneuvering Saddam Hussein into untenable positions. It is every bit as Machiavellian as one always supposed.
In the UK, the further revelations that Blair had been warned fully eight months before the shooting commenced that an invasion would be difficult to justify by international law, is sure to damage his already low standing with the public. It is even conceivable that this could throw the election to the Tories. That would be a shame for Britain and the Labour Party, but a well deserved end to Tony Blair's career.
In the US, it is hard to guess how this will play. I, for one, am beginning at this very hour to remember the taste and smell of the Watergate era; this could be huge. If the MSM have the decency to report on this explosive memo, it is even possible that this could spell the beginning of the end of George Bush's presidency. I hope that I do not exaggerate the importance of this story.