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Sunday, 28 January, 2001, 10:10 GMT
Mandelson 'rushed' into resigning
Peter Mandelson insists he did not lie
Mandelson insists he did not lie
Peter Mandelson has said he was rushed into resigning from the cabinet over the passport affair.

Writing a full and sometimes bitter account for the Sunday Times, he insisted there had been a mistake and that his office had dealt with the controversial passport inquiry to the Home Office after all.

He says he quit in a moment of personal weakness, as pressure mounted for an explanation in the face of "incomplete" facts.

For the first time and I hope the last time in my life, the fight suddenly went out of me

Peter Mandelson
For the first time since his resignation last Wednesday, the former Northern Ireland secretary spoke of feeling "isolated" and unable to defend himself at a Downing Street meeting.

He described the events leading to his fall from grace as "inaccurate, misleading and untrue" and pledged to clear his name in Sir Anthony Hammond QC's investigation of the affair.

Mr Mandelson wrote: "I know I have a mountain to climb before reversing this error, but I know I have to start somewhere."

Peter Mandelson leaves his London home with his protection officer
Peter Mandleson has pledged to clear his name
He added that he had already contacted Sir Anthony, asking for an appointment to give him his version of events.

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker said the latest revelations looked bad for the government.

He told the BBC: "What looked a week ago like a seamless operation from the Labour government now looks to be an operation in tatters.

"And if Mr Blair doesn't get his act together and start shutting people up in his own party then he will find that what has been a minor incident in many ways is going to become a major embarrassment."

Pressure mounting

BBC correspondent Jonathan Beale says Mr Mandelson's comments ahead of the inquiry into the passport affair will increase the pressure on the prime minister to give answers quickly.

I am not a liar. I did not lie

Peter Mandelson
Mr Mandelson said in his article that at no time did he remember having made a phone call to Immigration Minister Mike O'Brien about the Hinduja passport application.

It was the discrepancy between his claim that the call was handled by his private office and Mr O'Brien's recollection that a personal call on the issue had been made that proved fatal for Mr Mandelson.

He was forced to reverse his story when Mr O'Brien contradicted him.

This had not been intended to imply that he remembered the call, but that he had not taken advantage of a "convenient lapse of memory" to avoid mentioning it, Mr Mandelson said.

At the time, he had been preoccupied with Northern Ireland, and had gone into a round of TV interviews at 10 minutes' notice and without agreeing a line, he said.

'I am not a liar'

He wrote: "I am not a liar. I did not lie. What I did do was make the mistake of speaking out before establishing all the facts and rushing into last-minute interviews.

"This relatively trivial error was turned into a huge misjudgment that led to my resignation."

Mr Mandelson left the cabinet for the second time in two years after admitting he had made misleading statements over his involvement in the passport application of Srichand Hinduja.

Keith Vaz
Keith Vaz faces renewed allegations
Mr Hinduja gave a 1m donation to the Millennium Dome while Mr Mandelson was in charge of the project.

But since his resignation Mr Mandelson said he had discovered that a secretary claimed she had phoned the Home Office, not Mr Mandelson.

He added that another secretary had also checked her records and found no reference to Mr Mandelson personally calling Mr O'Brien.

Elsewhere in the Sunday newspapers, Tony Blair's official spokesman, Alastair Campbell, is reported as describing Mr Mandelson as being "slightly detached" during last week's furore.

He was reported to have said: "Northern Ireland has been a huge pressure. He just sees media alarm bells ringing all over the place and he is thinking: 'Get me out of here, I do not want to be there'."

But a Downing Street spokesman denied any rift.

His comments came as Europe Minister Keith Vaz faced fresh controversy over new allegations about his links with the wealthy Hinduja brothers.

He was made a minister shortly after the brothers lobbied Prime Minister Tony Blair , the Sunday Telegraph claims.

The Hinduja brothers wrote to Mr Blair in spring 1999, complaining that there were no Asian MPs in ministerial positions, it reports.

Within months, the Leicester East MP was appointed to his first ministerial post.

A senior government spokesman said: "I have no idea whether a letter was sent, but the idea that the prime minister would appoint anyone to his government on the basis of a letter from anybody is ridiculous."

Mr Vaz said on Friday he was "very happy" to have his correspondence on the Hinduja affair published, saying the inquiry would prove he had done nothing wrong over their passport application.

The BBC's Jonathan Beale
"Peter Mandelson appears to have decided to take matters into his own hands"
Michael Prescott, Political Editor, The Sunday Times
"It seems as though Peter Mandelson is not going to go quietly"
Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker
"I think this is very serious for the government"

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28 Jan 01 | UK Politics
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