Published March 05, 2010
LONDON – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown insisted Friday that Britain’s Armed Forces were sufficiently equipped prior to the Iraq invasion in 2003, dismissing claims that he "guillotined" defense spending when he was chancellor.
The prime minister was grilled by the official inquiry into the Iraq war over allegations he ordered spending cuts six years ago while British troops were fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Brown denied he ruled out providing specific equipment for British troops because they were deemed too expensive, telling Sir John Chilcot’s panel he was unaware of any occasion when a Ministry of Defence (MoD) request was turned down by the Treasury.
"I made it absolutely clear that every application for equipment ... had to be met by the Treasury," he said.
Brown began speaking to then-defense secretary Geoff Hoon in June 2002 about the possibilities available should the diplomatic route fail and assured then-prime minister Tony Blair he would have financial support.
"I made it clear to the prime minister (Tony Blair) that no option should be ruled out on the grounds that it was too costly, that we had to choose the right option for our security ... the Treasury would make allowance for whichever option was chosen," he said.
Earlier he stressed that Blair did not inform him of a secret deal in April 2002 with former U.S. president George W. Bush at a key strategy meeting in Crawford, Texas. Brown also denied being involved in negotiations with them prior to the meeting.
The inquiry heard neither was he involved in discussions with the U.K.’s Attorney-General over the legality of invading Iraq, or party to any private letters between Blair and Bush.
However, Brown denied accusations that ministers were not kept sufficiently informed.
"The cabinet was kept in touch … as to what was happening," he said.
"I cannot see an argument that the cabinet were not informed."
He was grilled by the panel over his role in the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 but would not be drawn on Sir Roderic Lyne’s inference that as chancellor at the time he was at the center of the decision-making process.
Brown said his role as chancellor was not to "second guess" military decisions but rather to ensure the "funding was there for what we had to do."
The prime minister said he still believed it was right to invade Iraq in 2003 but admitted that lessons were to be learned from the conflict, saying, "It was the right decision and it was for the right reasons," because Saddam Hussein was "a serial violator of international law."
The prime minister arrived at the official Iraq war inquiry through the front door, managing to avoid a run in with anti-war protesters demonstrating outside the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in the heart of London's political hub.
Brown faced questions Friday morning regarding his role as chancellor during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In the afternoon the panel planned to focus on his current role as prime minister.