Page last updated at 10:53 GMT, Saturday, 6 March 2010

Brown Iraq inquiry evidence disingenuous - Lord Boyce

Gordon Brown: "A very considerable amount of money was spent"

Former heads of the armed forces have strongly challenged Gordon Brown's evidence to the Iraq war inquiry.

The prime minister, who was chancellor when the war began, said the military had been given everything it asked for.

But Lord Guthrie, ex-chief of the defence staff, said in the Daily Telegraph that armed forces had been denied a request for more helicopters.

His successor, Lord Boyce, told the Times Mr Brown had been "disingenuous". No 10 rejected the criticisms.

Downing Street insisted that Mr Brown could not have been clearer in his response to questions about military funding.

Sacrifices acknowledged

It also repeated his statement that no request for equipment had ever been turned down.

But another former defence chief - General Sir Richard Dannatt - told the BBC that while the prime minister may have been "narrowly and precisely correct" on his evidence on military spending, he had not addressed the issue of "underlying underfunding" going back to 1997.

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Lord Guthrie, who held his post from 1997 to 2001, wrote in the Telegraph the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had "received the bare minimum from the chancellor, who wanted to give the military as little as he could get away with".

He said: "The whole defence budget was extremely difficult to run in his time.

"For Gordon Brown to say he has given the military all they asked for is not true.

"They asked for more helicopters but they were told they could not have any more."

Lord Guthrie added: "He cannot get away with saying 'I gave them everything they asked for'. That is simply disingenuous."

Lord Boyce, who was chief of the Defence Staff up to the beginning of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, echoed his former service colleague's attack: "He [Gordon Brown] is dissembling, he's being disingenuous. It's just not the case that the Ministry of Defence was given everything it needed.

Gen Sir Richard Dannatt
Nice try prime minister to say that we had everything we wanted
Gen Sir Richard Dannatt

"There may have been a 1.5 per cent increase in the defence budget but the MoD was starved of funds."

Gen Dannatt, who retired as Chief of General Staff last year and now advises the Conservatives on defence issues, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Nice try prime minister to say that we had everything we wanted. But that only applies to the very narrow point of the additional costs of operations."

He said Mr Brown had been correct when it came to Treasury funds for the additional costs of equipment - the so-called Urgent Operational Requirements (UOR).

But he said this was a "narrow" point, and there had been underlying underfunding going back to 1997-98.

"Defence inflation runs higher than normal inflation so when additional money has gone to defence over the years, the spending power of that money has reduced," he said.

"In 2003, the Treasury reopened an agreement on funding it had with the Ministry of Defence and effectively cut £1bn out of our budget year on year."

'Manageable' costs

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

During his evidence to the Iraq Inquiry on Friday Mr Brown said he had fully backed the 2003 invasion of Iraq and had been kept "in the loop" by Tony Blair during the the build-up to war.

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

He made 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.

Mr Brown, who was questioned for four hours, insisted UK forces had been given all the equipment they had asked for.

He told 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."

He confirmed the Iraq war had cost Britain £8bn and the total cost to the UK of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had been £18bn.

This sum was in addition to 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.

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



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