Page last updated at 14:50 GMT, Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Gordon Brown to face Iraq inquiry - after election

Sir John Chilcot
Sir John Chilcot's inquiry will take a break in the election run-up

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been called to give evidence to the Iraq inquiry - but his hearing will not take place until after the general election.

The delay is to avoid the occasion "being used for political advantage".

Sir John Chilcot's inquiry has also said they will have had public hearings with Tony Blair and his ex-ministers and senior advisers by early February.

They include ex-legal adviser Lord Goldsmith, ex-foreign secretary Jack Straw and Alastair Campbell.

British soldiers will not be impressed by a prime minister unwilling to step into the firing line
Ed Davey
Lib Dem foreign affairs

Others giving evidence include Clare Short - who complained about the lack of post-war planning when she resigned after the invasion - and Elizabeth Wilmshurst, who resigned as Foreign Office deputy legal adviser because she believed the war to be illegal.

Ex-defence secretaries Geoff Hoon, John Reid, Des Browne and John Hutton are also giving evidence. As will Jonathan Powell, who was Tony Blair's chief of staff in Downing Street.

The inquiry is examining UK policy towards Iraq between 2001 and 2009 and has just released the list of witnesses for hearings to be held in January and early February before the inquiry breaks ahead of the election.

Decision criticised

A statement on the website says the inquiry committee is "determined to remain firmly outside party politics" so will not hear from ministers still in roles about which they would be questioned.

Those whose hearings are being postponed are Mr Brown, Foreign Secretary David Miliband and International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey said: "Giving special treatment to Labour ministers not only undermines the perception of independence of the inquiry but will damage the public's trust in politics further still.

Everyone will want to know whether this decision of the inquiry was influenced by ministers in any way
William Hague
Shadow foreign secretary

"This looks like a deal cooked up in Whitehall corridors to save Gordon Brown and his ministers from facing the music. Gordon Brown signed the cheques for the Iraq war, and he should explain that decision before polling day.

"British soldiers will not be impressed by a prime minister unwilling to step into the firing line."

The Scottish National Party's Westminster leader Angus Robertson said: "It is utterly ridiculous that the prime minister will not be held to account before the election for his actions around the war in Iraq.

"If Labour are confident that they were right and the public were wrong over Iraq then Labour Ministers should bring forward their evidence and face up to the charges they face over this illegal conflict."

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague said: "Everyone will want to know whether this decision of the inquiry was influenced by ministers in any way.

"The public will rightly ask why it is that numerous officials have given evidence to the inquiry about their role in carrying out the government's policy on Iraq, but not a single minister has had to face questioning."

A spokesman for the inquiry denied any suggestion that the decision to delay Mr Brown's appearance had been influenced by ministers, saying: "It is for the inquiry to determine who is called and when, not the government.

"There have been no conversations between Sir John Chilcot and the prime minister on this issue."

The dates of the hearings that will go ahead before the election have not been announced. The statement on the inquiry's website says they will be published a week in advance.



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