Brown to face Iraq inquiry before poll
PM caves into pressure for testimony over war
BRITISH Prime Minister Gordon Brown is poised to be summoned before the Iraq inquiry just four weeks before he triggers a general election, it has emerged.
Mr Brown was told yesterday that he would be called in late February or early March after accepting an offer to give his testimony before the election.
There is increasing speculation that March 29 or 30 will be the day Mr Brown requests a dissolution of parliament for a May 6 poll.
It means he will go to the country with memories of his appearance at the inquiry -- and the revived spectre of the war -- fresh in voters' memories.
Labour MPs, particularly those in marginal seats, will be dismayed at the timing, though most see it as inevitable given Mr Brown's decision to accede to an inquiry so late.
It is believed Mr Brown decided to push for an earlier appearance after he and his team decided that he would continue to be portrayed by his opponents as afraid of being questioned about his role leading up to and after the war.
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, has infuriated the Labour leadership with repeated calls on Mr Brown to appear soon, even though the inquiry team under John Chilcot had decided that he and two other ministers, David Miliband and Douglas Alexander, should not appear until after the election because the questioning was to be mainly about their current rather than past roles.
Mr Brown has insisted that the timing of his appearance was for the inquiry and not for him. A Labour insider said: "It was a no-win situation. Obviously it is not ideal for Iraq to be so high on the agenda now. But he believes he has nothing to fear from the inquiry."
On Wednesday, Mr Brown announced that he had written to John Chilcot stating that he was ready to give evidence at any time.
At a meeting on Thursday, members of the inquiry considered what to do and because they had not given Mr Brown, Mr Miliband or Mr Alexander a chance to give evidence before the election, decided to do so.
A letter from Mr Chilcot arrived at Number 10 on Thursday evening saying that "as a matter of fairness, the committee has concluded that it should offer, if you wish to take it up, the opportunity for you to attend hearings before the election".
Broadcasters and newspapers were soon running the news that Mr Brown would appear, much to the anger of inquiry officials, who were awaiting Mr Brown's reply and hoped to make an announcement yesterday morning.
His reply arrived minutes before yesterday's hearing began.
Mr Brown wrote: "You have proposed a range of dates in the next two months. I will be happy to agree a date which is to the convenience of the inquiry."
Conservative leader David Cameron said the prime minister had questions to answer about his role as chancellor during the war. (© The Times, London)