Page last updated at 20:33 GMT, Friday, 5 March 2010

Brown denies starving UK troops of cash in Iraq war

Gordon Brown: Military commanders' requests were answered

Gordon Brown has denied starving UK armed forces of equipment - insisting at the Iraq inquiry that every request made while he was chancellor was met.

The prime minister said he fully backed the 2003 war and had been kept "in the loop" by Tony Blair in the build-up.

It comes after an ex-military chief accused Mr Brown of putting lives at risk by squeezing spending.

The Lib Dems say inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot should publish Treasury documents to clear up the row.

Mr Brown, who was chancellor at the time of the war, was giving evidence weeks ahead of the UK general election, which is expected to be held in early May.

'Sizeable sum'

The prime minister was grilled for four hours about his role in the run-up to the war and its aftermath, making clear throughout that he thought the conflict had been "right" to prevent other "rogue states" flouting international law but that lessons could be learned from it.

At any point, commanders were able to ask for equipment that they needed
Prime Minister Gordon Brown

He paid tribute to the "sacrifices" of British servicemen and women, saying: "Obviously the loss of life is something that makes us all sad.

"We have got to recognise that war may be necessary, but it is also tragic in the effect it has on people's lives."

He also expressed frustration at US post-war planning, saying: "It was one of my regrets that I wasn't able to be more successful in pushing the Americans on this issue - that the planning for reconstruction was essential, just the same as planning for the war."

He admitted that he had not seen letters between Mr Blair and US President George W Bush ahead of the invasion, or cabinet option papers - and had not known the then Attorney General Lord Goldsmith had changed his mind about the legality of the war.

But he said he had been given all the information he needed by Tony Blair to do his job - and he had largely restricted his involvement to financial matters, assuring his predecessor from an early stage that he would not attempt to block military options "on the grounds of cost".

He insisted UK forces had been given all the equipment they had asked for, telling the panel: "At any point, commanders were able to ask for equipment that they needed and I know of no occasion when they were turned down."

'Manageable'

He said the Iraq war had cost Britain £8bn and the total cost to the UK of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had been £18bn, on top of what he repeatedly stressed was an increasing defence budget.

He admitted it was a sizeable sum of money which had "made my life more difficult" as chancellor.

The truth of the Iraq invasion may have been forever lost to the New Labour spin machine
Angus Robertson, SNP

But he said the government had been able to meet the costs from reserves without making cuts elsewhere and it had ultimately been "manageable".

He also strongly defended his decision to curb defence spending following the invasion in 2003.

In 2002, the Ministry of Defence had used new Whitehall accounting rules to claim it had achieved efficiency savings of £1.3bn it had intended to spend on new equipment.

However, Mr Brown said there was no proof that the savings had been achieved and that if other Whitehall departments had followed their example it could have destabilised the public finances.

Former MoD permanent secretary Sir Kevin Tebbit previously told the inquiry that, after Mr Brown instituted his "guillotine", he had been forced to run the department on a "crisis budget".

But Mr Brown insisted the MoD had still been left with more money than it had been allocated in the 2002 Government Spending Review.

'Flatly contradicting'

Mr Brown was also quizzed about the funding of Snatch Land Rovers, an issue the families of soldiers killed in Iraq had asked the panel to quiz him about.

Mr Brown said Bulldog and Mastiff vehicles had been supplied to troops at a cost of £90m as soon as their commanders on the ground had asked for them, with the first of them arriving in Iraq "within six months" which he said was the fastest procurement time.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, whose party opposed the Iraq war, accused Mr Brown of "flatly contradicting" what senior military figures had said.

"They were having to.. apply a sticking plaster approach to equipment and resources for our brave servicemen and servicewomen," he told BBC News.

He added: "I think Gordon Brown can reiterate general platitudes as much as he likes but it seems to me that the evidence that our brave troops weren't given the resources and equipment they require is now overwhelming."

Purse strings

Lord Guthrie, who led the armed forces from 1997 to 2001, told Friday's Times newspaper: "Not fully funding the Army in the way they had asked... undoubtedly cost the lives of soldiers."

Shadow defence secretary Dr Liam Fox, for the Conservatives, said Mr Brown's evidence to the inquiry "did not add up".

He said there were still contradictions between what the PM had said about defence spending, and what others, including Sir Kevin Tebbit and former defence secretary Geoff Hoon, had said.

SNP defence spokesman, Angus Robertson agreed, adding: "Sadly, for all of those who opposed the Iraq invasion and for the thousands who lost their lives to it, the truth of the Iraq invasion may have been forever lost to the New Labour spin machine."

Rose Gentle, from Glasgow, whose 19-year-old son, Fusilier Gordon Gentle, was killed by a roadside bomb in Basra in 2004, said the inquiry panel should have hit Mr Brown "a lot harder".

"I do hold Tony Blair responsible, but at the same time Gordon Brown should hold a bit of responsibility because he held the purse strings," she said.

"I wasn't impressed with him at all putting the blame on the military. I'm hoping now somebody from the military will stand up and say, 'we did ask for this and that'."



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