Brown fury over forced admission

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The Independent Online
NICK BROWN, the Agriculture Minister who has acknowledged he is gay, last night attacked the way in which he was "bounced" by the press into revealing his sexuality.

As Downing Street and cabinet colleagues rallied to Mr Brown's support, the minister suggested that he offered to resign in his talks with Tony Blair, and that the Prime Minister had told him he wanted him to stay in his post.

Friends of Mr Brown attacked the News of the World, saying he was "mortified" by its actions. They accused the paper of reviving, in the wake of the Ron Davies affair, claims by a former partner of Mr Brown who had first tried to sell his story before last year's general election.

"It's a disgrace," one minister said last night. "The News of the World didn't publish anything at the time because the allegations were untrue. Now it has dredged them up and forced Nick to make a statement."

Mr Brown told BBC television last night: "I had rather hoped that I could have a private life, like other people do, that was private. What's happened is enormously embarrassing for me and has hurt me. I am sad that my family, my friends, my constituents have all had to read today's press."

Asked whether his resignation had been discussed with Mr Blair, Mr Brown replied: "He asked me to do the very best job I can for Britain and for the farming community. That is what I am going to do." He refused to comment further on whether his resignation had been discussed.

Friends believe the News of the World was unlikely to publish in yesterday's edition the claim by his former partner that Mr Brown had paid him for gay sex. But they say its threat to publish forced the minister to acknowledge he was homosexual. In a statement issued by Downing Street, he said he had given the man up to pounds 80 when he was short of money, but said he did not do so regularly and never did for sex. Although his sexuality was known at Westminster, Mr Brown is said to be "devastated". One reason he wanted to keep his lifestyle private was to avoid upsetting his elderly mother.

Mr Brown is the third member of Tony Blair's Cabinet to be named as homosexual. Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary, "came out" before the general election, while Peter Mandelson, the Trade and Industry Secretary, was "outed" by Matthew Parris, the newspaper columnist, on Newsnight days after the resignation of Mr Davies, who denied any link with sex or drugs after meeting a stranger on Clapham Common and giving him a lift in his car.

Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, who is gay, told BBC radio yesterday he respected the wish of other homosexual MPs to keep their private lives private. "It's wrong to bounce people out in this kind of way," he said.

"I would like us to reach a stage where anybody's reaction to these lurid headlines is a very large yawn and a loud `so what'. Most people's reaction today would have been that but we're not quite there yet."

Stonewall, the gay and lesbian pressure group, called on the press to drop its "unwarranted and unjustifiable intrusions into the private lives of MPs". Angela Mason, its executive director, said: "Coming out is a personal decision and should be left to the individuals. Forcing MPs to come out serves no public purpose and causes only personal distress to those concerned."

Phil Hall, editor of the News of the World, said: "The News of the World approached No 10 Downing Street after a young man gave us an unsubstantiated account of a relationship with Nick Brown. Mr Brown then volunteered a statement to the News of the World which we have published in full. We have not published the young man's account in any form."

Mr Brown, MP for Newcastle upon Tyne East and Wallsend, has received the backing of his two closest cabinet colleagues, Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, and Margaret Beckett, the Leader of the Commons, and has the support of local and regional party colleagues in the North-east. The minister stayed away from the Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph yesterday.

n Alun Michael, who succeeded Ron Davies as Welsh Secretary, said he hoped to find Mr Davies a place in his "cabinet" if he becomes First Secretary in the Welsh Assembly. "I would like to think no one's closed out of public office for ever," he said, "whatever has happened".