Gordon Brown becomes the highest-ranking witness to appear before the Iraq Inquiry tomorrow. Although as some commentators have observed he may on the face of it have less to answer for than his predecessor, the evidence that we have already heard throws up several key questions.
Mr Brown will be asked about his roles both as chancellor and as PM, but perhaps inevitably it is his time at Number 11 that looks set to dominate the session.
Did Brown’s Treasury weaken the Ministry of Defence’s ability to wage wars first in Iraq and subsequently in Afghanistan?
Geoff Hoon told the inquiry that when he began as defence secretary in 1999 “there was quite a strong feeling that it was not fully funded.” Several witnesses said that spending cuts which were forced upon the MoD in September 2003 led to shortages of equipment, including helicopters, that could have helped in Afghanistan.
Hoon said that, “We then had to look hard at our budget and make some rather difficult cuts in the future equipment programme as a result … Had that budget been spent in the way that we thought we should spend it then those helicopters would probably be coming into service any time now.”
Top MoD civil servant Sir Kevin Tebbit told the inquiry Brown instituted a “complete guillotine” of the MoD’s resources leading to cuts in programmes for everything from warships to patrol aircraft: Tebbit said he was reduced to “running essentially a crisis budget.” One former chief of the defence staff said the Army top brass even considered resigning over Brown’s cuts.
Alastair Campbell said that Brown was “one of the key ministers” Blair consulted in the run-up to the war, and agreed that he was “very much part of the private circle of consultations.”
Was Brown aware that Blair wrote to Bush in 2002 promising that if Iraq had to be disarmed militarily, “Britain will be there”? Did he support that stance?
Was Clare Short right to allege that Brown conspired with other Cabinet members to create “a lie, a deliberate lie”, the ‘blame the French’ strategy to avoid responsibility for the collapse of diplomatic negotiations at the UN?
As chancellor, Brown held the second highest position in British politics. Was he content with the way in which Cabinet operated during the months leading up to the war, and in particular: the decision to exclude Clare Short from reconstruction planning meetings, the way in which the Cabinet did or didn’t get to debate Iraq policy, the partial manner in which the attorney general’s legal advice was eventually presented to ministers?
Clare Short told the inquiry that in the days and weeks leading up to the war she and Brown chatted over coffee and that he told her that he felt “pushed out and marginalised” by a legacy-obsessed Blair who wanted “a quick war and then a reshuffle” that might force him out of the Treasury.
Is that now an accurate account? Did it affect his decision to continue supporting Blair, even when it became clear there would not be a fresh UN resolution authorising military action? (Short told the inquiry that Brown had previously insisted, “We must uphold the UN.”)
Short said that DfID “only got any extra money from the Treasury [for post-war reconstruction] … after the invasion had started.
“How you can plan an exemplary role when it is that late, [it] is impossible,” she added. Could not the Treasury have done more to fund reconstruction?
Did Tony Blair pressure Brown via Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell or in any other way to hold the Iraq Inquiry in private so that Blair wouldn’t face a “show trial”? If not, why did Brown initially announce that it would take place behind closed doors? What changed his mind?
Did Brown encourage the inquiry to adopt the initial position that it would not take evidence from ministers who are still serving in the roles about which it wished to question them, including him, before the general election? Does he regret the timing of his appearance, given the imminence of said election?