Page last updated at 13:21 GMT, Friday, 22 January 2010

Gordon Brown to face Iraq inquiry before election

Sir John Chilcot confirms Gordon Brown's pre-election appearance

Gordon Brown will give evidence to the Iraq inquiry before the general election, it has been confirmed.

Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot said the prime minister had agreed to appear "within the next two months".

It follows pressure from opposition parties for him to give evidence before the election - expected in May.

Downing Street said Mr Brown had "nothing to hide" and the decision was not connected to ex-Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon's evidence to the inquiry.

Mr Brown's official spokesman said the prime minister was "keen to take up the opportunity to state the case about why Britain was right to take the action it did in respect to Iraq".

Mr Hoon was critical of government funding for defence when he appeared before the inquiry on Tuesday, saying the department was underfunded for many years and requests for "significantly more money" were turned down.

Opposition parties welcomed the news, saying the electorate were entitled to know what role Mr Brown, as chancellor, played in the decision to go to war in 2003 before casting their votes.

Conservative leader David Cameron said Mr Brown had some "very important questions to answer".

"I am glad they are going to be asked and answered before a general election," he said during a question and answer session at a community centre in Gillingham, Kent.

Exchange of letters

Sir John said he wanted the inquiry to "stay outside party politics" but he said Mr Brown had written to him to say he was happy to appear whenever the panel wanted.

In his reply, Sir John said "as a matter of fairness", he would offer Mr Brown the opportunity to appear before the election.

The date for his appearance will be agreed in the next few days but it is likely to be at the end of February or the beginning of March.

Clegg backs PM inquiry appearance

The inquiry published details of a letter from No 10 to Sir John in which Mr Brown wrote: "I want to make it absolutely clear I am prepared to give evidence whenever you see fit."

In his reply, Sir John said he was determined that the inquiry should not be used as a "platform for political advantage by any party".

He said the committee was still concerned about the risk of the hearings being politicised in the run-up to the election.

But he added: "But as a matter of fairness, the committee has concluded that it should offer, if you wish to take it up, the opportunity for you to attend hearings before the election."

Postponed

Sir John said the prime minister and the committee would need time to prepare for his appearance.

However, he also notes that the session will have to be postponed if a general election is called in the meantime.

My guess is that Brown realised [the] appearance of Jack Straw at the Iraq inquiry and next week's by Tony Blair would lead to persistent demands for him to face questioning too
Nick Robinson

International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander and Foreign Secretary David Miliband may also now appear before the election.

At prime minister's questions on Wednesday, Mr Brown told MPs he had written to Sir John saying he was happy to appear "at any time" before the committee - but it was up to the independent panel to decide.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said it was "only right" that he explain his role "before asking the British people for their vote".

"It is well known that the prime minister was a key figure in Britain's decision to invade Iraq," he said.

'No delay'

Angus Robertson, the SNP's leader at Westminster, who raised the issue at question time, said there "must be no delay" in setting a date for Mr Brown's appearance.

"Gordon Brown has much to answer for - not least why he as chancellor could agree to an illegal and immoral invasion but lacked the courage to stand up for our troops and provide the right equipment as they were put in harm's way," he said.

The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson said the timing of Mr Brown's appearance would be "unwelcome" for many in Labour as it would resurrect an issue which was damaging to the party at the last election.

From the start of the inquiry, Sir John had made clear that hearings would not be held in the run-up to the election to allow it to remain outside party politics.

The committee decided last year not to call Mr Brown and other ministers with current responsibilities for Iraq before the election.

But as key figures such as former No 10 communications chief Alastair Campbell and ex-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw have begun to give evidence in recent days, this position has become increasingly controversial.

Tony Blair, who quit British politics when he stepped down as prime minister in 2007, will give evidence next Friday.

The former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith - who advised the cabinet that military intervention would be lawful, despite raising earlier concerns - will give evidence next Wednesday.



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