Brown: I gave them every penny
Gordon Brown has insisted he agreed to every request made by defence chiefs during the Iraq war, in a politically charged session at the Chilcot inquiry.
The prime minister had been accused by a previous witness that as chancellor he “guillotined” defence spending for Iraq..
Within the opening half-hour of evidence, however, Mr Brown made clear that he had assured then-prime minister Tony Blair that military options should not be ruled out on the grounds of cost.
“I said immediately to the prime minister that… there should be no sense there was a financial restraint that prevented us doing what was best for the military,” he said.
“I told him I would not try to rule out any military option on the grounds of cost, quite the opposite.”
Mr Brown had faced accusations of implementing cheap defence budgets while at the Treasury and of showing little interest in the conflict – all coming from previous witness testimonies.
His repeated confirmation that he never turned down a single request from Britain’s armed forces reveals that his advisors are clearly concerned the allegations could damage him in the run-up to the election.
The comments came as Mr Brown gave evidence in a witness session originally pencilled in for after the general election, but which took place today due to a concerted campaign by opposition parties.
The prime minister was also keen to address complaints about the equipment used by British forces, including the controversial Snatch Land Rover, which some military families felt was vulnerable to road side bombs.
The Times published a letter from a lawyer acting on behalf of the mother of Phillip Hewett, who died in a roadside blast in 2005, earlier this week, in which she expalined the questions she wanted Mr Brown to face.
“We ask that you question Mr Brown about decisions he took as chancellor of the exchequer regarding funding of the Iraq war in light of evidence heard by your inquiry,” the letter, addressed to Sir John Chilcott, read.
“Specifically, was he aware of concerns around the lack of armoured vehicles and did he receive any requests for funding (particularly in the period 1997-2006) to purchase armoured vehicles? What concerns, if any, were raised with him about the use of Snatch Land Rovers?”
Today, Mr Brown responded to those questions directly.
“When a request for vehicles was made, the expenditure was allocated and the vehicles were provided,” Brown said. He added that he agreed to replace the Snatch Land Rover as soon as he was asked with Mastiff and new Bulldog vehicles.
The Land Rovers were first used in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and were designed to withstand attacks from projectiles including hand grenades.
But since their deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan there has been fierce concern they are insufficient to protect against roadside bombs planted by insurgents.
More than 30 British service personnel have been killed while patrolling in the vehicles, which have now been fully replaced by Mastiff armoured vehicles.
Mr Brown went on to tell the inquiry he believed the decision to oust Saddam Hussein from Iraq in 2003 was “the right decision” made “for the right reasons”.
He said the international community was justified in taking action and insisted, as Baroness Usha Prashar put it, that he was “in the loop” in the run-up to war.
Mr Brown said he had learned since becoming prime minister that foreign policy worked much better when “intermediaries” were dispensed with, as he defended what critics have described as Mr Blair’s ‘sofa’ style of government.
“They are in a position to report to you on an hour-by-hour basis, instead of through intermediaries as in the past,” he explained.
“The closer the individuals work together, the better the conduct of foreign policy as well.”
But Mr Brown took a more critical stance later when he said: “We have learned lessons from the informality of the previous proceedings.”
The former chancellor only admitted to one regret – that he had not put enough pressure on the Americans to plan for post-invasion reconstruction during the build-up to war. Mr Brown admitted not being sufficiently aware of the “tensions” within the US administration at the time.
He was also openly critical of neo-conservative voices in the White House, such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.
“I never subscribed to the neo-conservative position, that at the barrel of a gun, overnight, democracy could be cooked up,” he said.
A ballot was held earlier in the year for the allocation of tickets, similar to that used during Tony Blair’s appearance.