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Breakfast with Frost
Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer
Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: GORDON BROWN, MP, CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER MARCH 16th, 2003

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: And we're delighted to welcome now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown. We've had a lot of debate on and off through the programme this morning about legality, the legality of our actions, and we have reports in the paper today that the Attorney General is backing Blair on this and that in fact he will outline the reasons why he's formally advised Downing Street that a pre-emptive military attack would not breach international law. Why, why is it legal? Why do we think it's legal?

GORDON BROWN: Well it is for the Attorney General to make his own statement - he is, he is the lawyer and obviously we don't want war, we want peace, we want the diplomatic process to work. But the government would not be acting in the way it has done without there being a legal basis for its actions. Now the Resolution 1441 talks about serious consequences if Saddam Hussein fails to comply, but that is, lying behind that is the, all the previous resolutions, including Resolution 678 which says that the international community should take all necessary means to uphold security and peace. In other words, that Saddam Hussein should disarm. And of course everything has been done under Chapter 7 of the United Nations, which is the authorisation for military action. So I think you can take it that the government would not be contemplating action if it did not have a legal basis for that action.

DAVID FROST: Without, without quoting the Attorney General's words, we don't know what they exactly will be tomorrow, you are satisfied, from what you've heard, that it is legal?

GORDON BROWN: Yes the government is, is satisfied that there's legal authority - but let me just say that we do not want military action, we do not seek military action. Even now, with the initiatives that have taken place, Saddam Hussein could announce that he would comply and he would cooperate, he could deal with the issues that were raised by Mr Blix only ten days ago - 126 questions that were asked of him, none of which he seems to have answered, even when he's had the chance to do so in the last ten days. And of course the purpose of a second resolution was to put the maximum pressure on Saddam Hussein so that the international community should be saying to him that he had to disarm immediately and that he could not get off, off the hook.

DAVID FROST: Yes, but at the same time people do say that if we went ahead with the second resolution and lost, that might weaken our legal position.

GORDON BROWN: I think the legal authority is, it comes back to a series of resolutions that have been passed by the United Nations over a long period of time. I would think we have got to look at the background to this. To ask Saddam Hussein to take all necessary - to ask the international community that they should take all necessary means to disarm Saddam Hussein and to secure international peace and security in the region was the purpose of 678 in 1991. That is still a resolution that is being referred to in 1441 -

DAVID FROST: Yes, but we can't afford to lose, we can't afford to lose the resolution, can we?

GORDON BROWN: Well the -

DAVID FROST: Better not to go ahead.

GORDON BROWN: - the issue about the resolution is, that is of course one of the subjects that's being discussed this afternoon, and I can't presume the outcome of that. But whatever is said about that resolution, a further resolution, you go back to the issues that were raised in 1991 and beyond where it was said that the international community should use all necessary means to disarm Saddam Hussein. That is still in force, particularly so since 1441 refers to it and refers to serious consequences, of course, for Saddam Hussein. So I don't, I don't think the government, just to finish that point about it legal, legality, the government would not be acting in the way it is of course while hoping that there is still peace while saying there was a possibility of military action unless it was satisfied that there was a legal basis for its actions.

DAVID FROST: Right. Jack Straw has said though that military action is much more likely now and you would, you would have to say that the outcome of today's summit is more likely to be war than peace.

GORDON BROWN: Well my view -

DAVID FROST: Wouldn't you?

GORDON BROWN: My view is, and I think this is the view of Tony Blair, is that we should continue to try even now, even in these difficult times, to secure international agreement - international agreement to a resolution that would involve international cooperation and force Saddam Hussein to disarm. And that was the purpose of having a second resolution. It is unfortunate that we've both got non-compliance on the part of Iraq, they are refusing to comply and cooperate, and I am very saddened when I look at what's happened in the last ten days when they had the chance to do something about the 10,000 litres of anthrax, to both disclose or explain or remove it, nothing has been done. Unaccounted for is the 550 mustard gas bombs, unaccounted for still the six and half thousand chemical weapons, and of course no inspector has been able to leave the country.

DAVID FROST: But -

GORDON BROWN: These are issues that make it difficult. And of course the other issue that makes it difficult is that at least one country has said that although it has supported resolutions that imply the use of force, that they would not support a resolution now on the use of force, at this stage, whatever the circumstances. And of course that does make it difficult.

DAVID FROST: What about the situation here at home, the papers all have confirmed that Robin Cook will resign from the Cabinet if, if in fact war goes ahead without a further second resolution. Will that be a loss? Do you understand why he's doing that?

GORDON BROWN: Well that's speculation. Look, look today -

DAVID FROST: But it's his speculation ... An aide to a friend, friend ...

GORDON BROWN: I haven't seen him make a statement. This is speculation and even today the focus is on seeing whether we can move the diplomatic process forward. I believe even at this stage there are initiatives that can be taken that would move it forward. I would like everyone of the Security Council members to be in a position to say that they would support measures to disarm Saddam Hussein -

DAVID FROST: But it's said -

GORDON BROWN: - there has got to be a mechanism for action.

DAVID FROST: But it's said in all the papers that Robin Cook said these reservations in the Cabinet. Didn't you hear him do that?

GORDON BROWN: There were discussions in the Cabinet and it's not for me to report them but the one thing I can tell you is that Robin Cook has not announced that he is going to resign. That is speculation. Equally with Clare Short, that is speculation. And I think the most important focus for today is how we can move this disarmament process further and all of us have been having talks with our opposite numbers in other countries. We believe there is still scope to move these things forward. I hope when President Bush and Mr Aznar, who was also talking about the need to move the diplomatic process forward, and Mr Blair meet today that they can agree about how it can be moved forward.

DAVID FROST: But didn't - wouldn't you say though that in terms, by going public on radio, I mean Clare Short was irresponsible - I mean if you were prime minister, you wouldn't want one of your cabinet ministers going on the radio and saying you were reckless,? You wouldn't want that, would you?

GORDON BROWN: I support the action Tony Blair has taken in this. You've got to remember that Clare Short agrees that Saddam Hussein is a threat. And she agrees that he's not complying, she agrees that he hasn't actually removed his weaponry, she agrees that international action is necessary and she agrees, of course, that if there were to be military action, the reconstruction of Iraq - and I think this is very important because I've been working with Clare on this, as has Tony Blair - the reconstruction of Iraq should take place under the auspices of the United Nations. And to answer the point about oil, I've think that she would agree, I would agree and I think the government is of the view that the oil revenues should come under a United Nations trust fund and therefore one of the arguments about this being a war for other countries to control Iraq's oil is simply not the case. There would be an international effort through the United Nations for reconstruction and an oil trust fund.

DAVID FROST: But she did say, "reckless with our government, reckless with his own future position and place in history, it's extraordinary reckless."

GORDON BROWN: But Clare -

DAVID FROST: But we must balance what you just said, but those are rather strong words.

GORDON BROWN: These are strong words but of course Clare has also said this week that she welcomes the steps that Tony Blair and George Bush have taken on the Middle East peace process and she has drawn up, with others, this plan for reconstruction, if there were to be military action, and she has never denied that military action may be necessary if Saddam Hussein fails to comply.

DAVID FROST: There's obviously been horrendous pressure on the prime minister in the last few weeks. There are reports from Labour people that they're going to press for a possible challenge to his leadership and so on. Is that going to happen? And there has been enormous pressure on him, with Iraq, hasn't there? I mean he looks tired and -

GORDON BROWN: The people you're talking about should have nothing to do with that. This is about the national interests, this is our role in the international community. Tony Blair has tried to bring Europe and America together. He's trying to find a diplomatic way forward, even at this last minute he is still trying to find that diplomatic way forward. I believe there are options still available to us and these will be discussed today with President Bush. I think the important thing to recognise is that when the international community passes its resolutions, demands action, says this is the final opportunity, says that material breaches have occurred and says of course that it must use all necessary means to disarm Saddam Hussein, as it has done over these 12 years, it has got to show that its got a mechanism for enforcing its will. And that was, of course, the purpose of a second resolution, but of course that could form initiatives that could be taken this afternoon and later, to see if we can resolve this issue without military action.

DAVID FROST: There will be a debate and a vote this week though, will there?

GORDON BROWN: I think depending on what is the outcome of today and tomorrow, where discussions are still taking place at the United Nations, there has, there will be discussion in parliament. I can't say the exact form of it but it's undoubtedly the case that the discussions still continue at the United Nations and the government will want to report back on the outcome of these discussions.

DAVID FROST: But there - but - yeah, your people and everybody, I mean really all want to have a vote. I mean why not just say yes there will be a vote?

GORDON BROWN: Well I think there will be a vote but I can't say exactly what the outcome of the discussions are going to be. Let us hope that these discussions move the issue to a peaceful solution. Even now there are initiatives on the table that have been put forward by us and by others that may help us resolve the question of whether there can be international cooperation and the blockage is the non-compliance of Saddam Hussein and of course the blockage is at least one country saying, in which, in what I think is unreasonable terms, that whatever the circumstances, having said they would consider the use of force, they would not consider the use of force. And that really deprives us of a mechanism for action and that is really a re-run that is being asked for of the 1441 resolution process. We have got to show that we are capable as an international community of enforcing our will.

DAVID FROST: How much is it going to cost, all of this, Gordon? You said 1.75 billion at one point, a few weeks ago. You were quoted in the Guardian as saying 3.5 billion. What's the bill?

GORDON BROWN: The only announcement I've made is 1.75 billion. I think other figures are other people's speculation. We have set aside 1.75 billion. When the budget comes on April 9th I will report on the costs as they have been and what we will set aside in future times. And we would be committed, if there were to be military action, to the reconstruction of Iraq and I think it's very important to recognise that as we look at the devastation that has been caused in Iraq by Saddam Hussein, if there were to be military action, then 60 per cent of the population are in poverty and needing in food, these are measures for reconstruction but also for immediate aid, and that the government would wish to play a part in implementing -

DAVID FROST: How will you find the money Gordon? Mean will it be by added borrowing, added tax or less public spending?

GORDON BROWN: Well I think you've got to look back over the last five years. We've created a fiscal system in our country, a financial system where we can deal with emergencies now. We had to deal with foot and mouth, we had to deal with Afghanistan, the repercussions of September 11th, the security costs, we have to deal with Kosovo. We will deal with what needs to be done because these are matters of national interests and national security and they're matters of meeting our international responsibilities and I'll be able to report back in the budget of April 9th what we'll be setting aside.

DAVID FROST: And you're going to stick to that budget? I was wondering whether you'd have to postpone the budget again or postpone your euro test due in June. Will you have to postpone either of those?

GORDON BROWN: I haven't postponed the budget. What I've announced is that the budget's on April 9th. I think half the budgets in the last 50 years or just less than half have been in April. Equally the euro test, the assessment is to be made by June, I can assure you that we will meet that timetable.

DAVID FROST: And we've been talking today, for a change, mainly about foreign affairs. No surprise you talk about it very well indeed. Would you like a go at being foreign secretary one day?

GORDON BROWN: Well I'm very happy doing the job I'm doing and I'm happy to continue doing the job I'm doing as long people have confidence in me.

DAVID FROST: You'd rather your next job be prime minister than foreign secretary?

GORDON BROWN: I didn't say that, I said I'm happy doing the job I'm doing.

DAVID FROST: Just checking. Just checking.

[BREAKS FOR NEWS]

DAVID FROST: Well we're delighted to have had you with us this morning, Gordon, talking about Iraq and we look forward to having Alan Millburn talking about the National Health Service in a future week. Thank you for joining us this morning.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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