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Sunday, 2 December, 2001, 17:19 GMT
Blair-Brown 'pact' denied
Blair and Brown at the start of the 2001 election campaign
Speculation increased that the men struck a deal
Downing Street has dismissed fresh speculation that Tony Blair privately agreed to stand down and allow Gordon Brown to take over as prime minister.

The chancellor had fuelled further reports of a deal when interviewed on Sunday on the BBC's Breakfast With Frost.

When questioned on the existence of a deal, Mr Brown said: "What Tony Blair and I have said to each other is really a matter for us."

But the prime minister's spokesman suggested that the chancellor had refused to be drawn on the subject because he was determined that the BBC interview should be focused on the health service.

What Tony Blair and I have talked about is very private

Gordon Brown
Chancellor

The spokesman said talk of a deal was "not on anyone's radar or agenda".

Mr Brown had said: "He's doing an excellent job. He will stay as prime minister and that's the right thing to do.

"But what Tony Blair and I have talked about is something very private."

Stunned

Mr Brown's answer clearly stunned veteran broadcaster David Frost, who told the chancellor: "I was gobsmacked because you didn't go one way or the other on that."

Brown and Blair at the party's manifesto launch in May 2001
Brown and Blair: worked together for 18 years
And he added: "It's private, but it's going to intrigue people that you didn't answer the question."

Mr Brown said he and Tony Blair had a "very strong working relationship" which had been fostered over 18 years.

"When I'm talking to Tony Blair, we can laugh about people asking about us.

"I've known Tony Blair for 18 years and probably talked to him every day for 18 years, sometimes three or four times a day, about things that matter.

"It's a very strong working relationship and has been over that period of time."

'No agreement'

In an interview last May in London's Evening Standard, Mr Blair flatly denied that any leadership pact existed between him and Mr Brown.

"As Gordon and I both say whenever we are asked about this, there is no gentleman's agreement," he said.


You have two people that aren't working together

Mo Mowlam
Former NI Secretary
Speculation has grown over the past few weeks about a rift between the two men.

On Saturday, Labour party chairman Charles Clarke appeared to contradict Mr Brown's economic tests for Britain to join the single currency.

This was interpreted by Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Edward Davey as the work of Blair's "stirrer in chief".

'Battle'

Two weeks ago, former Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam said that rivalry between the prime minister and Mr Brown was "crippling" the government.

She told the BBC programme Cabinet Confidential: "When you have two people that aren't working together... it doesn't lead to positive, easy, decision making.

"You know there's a battle going on and people support, or people go to, one side or the other.

"I think that is just crippling for government."

In response, Chancellor Gordon Brown was lavished with praise by Downing Street, and Tony Blair's official spokesman hailed the chancellor as one of the finest finance ministers in the world with a fine track record of achievement.

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 ON THIS STORY
Chancellor Gordon Brown
"What Tony Blair and I have talked about is something very private"
See also:

23 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Brown takes centre stage
19 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Praise for Brown amid 'rift' claims
09 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Blair 'won't hand over to Brown'
01 Mar 01 | Budget 2001
The man who would be leader
02 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Labour 'pact' back in spotlight
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