Page last updated at 13:44 GMT, Sunday, 31 January 2010

Brown marginalised on Iraq decision, says Short

Clare Short said there was no link between Saddam and al-Qaeda

Gordon Brown was "marginalised" by Tony Blair in the build-up to the Iraq war, former International Development Secretary Clare Short has said.

The then chancellor neither opposed nor supported the invasion but was "preoccupied" by other concerns, she told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

Ms Short also described Mr Blair's evidence to the Iraq inquiry on Friday as "ludicrous".

Ms Short quit the cabinet shortly after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

She is due to appear before the inquiry - looking at the UK's role in the lead-up to the war, its conduct and aftermath - on Tuesday.

'Very powerful'

Ms Short told the Andrew Marr Show: "In most of the run-up to the war Gordon and Tony were in one of their fallen-out phases and Gordon was marginalised, not included and not in the inner group.

"He was saying to me 'They think they're going to have a quick and successful war and then they'll be very powerful and they'll have a reshuffle'.

There was no link at the time between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. So there was no such threat
Clare Short, former minister

"He thought they wanted him out of the Treasury, because there was tension about how you spend the money of the government, and they were going to offer him the Foreign Office and he was saying 'I won't accept it. I'll go and join you on the back benches.'"

Ms Short also talked about Mr Blair's failure to get a second United Nations resolution, which would have authorised an invasion of Iraq, in the face of opponents including France and Russia.

She said: "At the point... when Blair became totally grey after he failed to get the second resolution - his face was haunted and thin - [former Deputy Prime Minister John] Prescott got Brown back together with Blair and Brown came behind Blair.

"It was sort of [an agreed strategy of] 'blame the French' and mislead people about what [French President Jacques] Chirac's position was.

"So at that point he came in behind Blair but, for most of the time, he was marginalised."

'World threat'

Asked whether Mr Brown had spoken against the war in cabinet meetings, Ms Short said: "No. He didn't speak at all about it until he came back in with the 'blame the French' strategy and then he did.

"He didn't oppose the war. He didn't support it, but he was preoccupied by other things."

During his six-hour evidence session at the Iraq inquiry on Friday, Mr Blair said former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had been a "monster", who he believed "threatened not just the region but the world".

He also stressed the British and US attitude towards the threat posed by Saddam Hussein "changed dramatically" after the terror attacks on 11 September 2001.

But Ms Short described Mr Blair as "preachy", adding: "His great big argument that, after 11 September and the attack on the twin towers, there was a danger that rogue states would give weapons of mass destructions to organisations like al-Qaeda, and that's the reason for going to Iraq - he never argued at the time.

"And it is ludicrous. There was no link of any kind... between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. So there was no such threat."

'Cabinet system'

She added: "And his claim that it was all going to be fine but then Iran got together with al-Qaeda - that's not true either. Al-Qaeda hates Shia Muslims and attacks and kills them.

"He kept saying 'I had to decide.' We are supposed to have a cabinet system of government."

Earlier this month, Mr Blair's former spokesman Alastair Campbell, told the Iraq inquiry that Ms Short had been "difficult to handle" and suggested there was a fear she might leak things she did not agree with.

In the run-up to the war, Ms Short had repeatedly said Britain should not invade without a second UN resolution.

She has previously said she was persuaded by Mr Blair to stay in the cabinet after the invasion, with a promise that her department would play a leading role in post-war reconstruction.

Ms Short, a frequent critic of Mr Blair who now sits in the Commons as an independent MP, eventually quit the government over the lack of UN involvement in the reconstruction effort.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey said: "As chancellor, Gordon Brown had the power and the opportunity to intervene to stop Tony Blair invading Iraq. Instead he signed the cheques for this foreign policy disaster.

"Gordon Brown had an effective veto. He must explain his failure to use it."

Mr Brown has said he will also appear at the inquiry before the general election, which is expected to take place on 6 May.

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