1956: The Attorney General’s Suez file

by Carl Gardner on December 27, 2016

The year about to end, 2016, is the 60th anniversary of the Suez crisis—something I’m surprised hasn’t had more coverage and comment. The Suez crisis is of legal interest because of the way the Attorney General Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller’s view (that Britain’s military intervention could not be justified in international law) was ignored by the Prime Minister in favour of the more convenient legal advice of the Lord Chancellor Lord Kilmuir—Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, as he’s better known to many of us.

So over the coming days, I’ll be reproducing (with the permission of the image library of the National Archives) documents I’ve found in the Attorney General’s 1956 Suez file at the National Archives in Kew relating to that famous legal dispute.

These documents are not new: they’ve been in the public domain at the National Archives for some time, and were reported on some years ago. But I want to make freely available in full, perhaps for the first time, some of the key documents setting out the legal dispute over Suez and the Attorney General’s discomfort at being, in effect, ignored.

I’ll begin today with a letter and memo from the Attorney General to the Lord Chancellor from October 1956. Then, over the next few days I’ll be posting further correspondence between the government’s two top lawyers plus letters to the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, among other legal and ministerial correspondence.

If you’re as interested in political and legal history as I am, I hope you’ll enjoy reading the legal arguments and concerns of 1956 in ministers’ own words.

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