Blair did not promise to step aside for Brown, say aides

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Tony Blair never promised Gordon Brown he would stand down before the next general election, allies of the Prime Minister insisted yesterday.

Tony Blair never promised Gordon Brown he would stand down before the next general election, allies of the Prime Minister insisted yesterday.

The Blair camp disputed the claim in a new book about the Chancellor that the Prime Minister pledged to quit last year. Blair aides said he promised to stand down if he became a liability to Labour but, crucially, gave no date and did not say he would go before the election.

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, who brokered a truce between the two men over a "peace dinner" in November 2003, is said to have told the Chancellor: "As far as I am concerned, this is at a time of Tony's choosing. There can be no pressure on him to go before he is ready."

Last summer, Mr Blair decided not to quit because his political fortunes recovered and he judged that Mr Brown had not kept his side of the bargain - to throw his support behind the Prime Minister. One cabinet minister said: "Tony never gave an undertaking to leave before the election. That might have been what Gordon understood but that is not what he was told. Tony wanted Gordon to succeed him when he decided to go."

Brown supporters will doubt this version of events. They will ask why Mr Blair would discuss leaving if he had no intention of going before the election.

The Chancellor was forced yesterday to state publicly that he trusted Mr Blair. The book, Brown's Britain, by Robert Peston, alleges that Mr Brown told Mr Blair after he said he would not quit: "There is nothing you could ever say to me now that I could ever believe." The Tories plan to use Mr Brown's alleged statement in an election poster.

At a Labour poster launch yesterday with Alan Milburn, who assumed his pivotal election role last autumn, Mr Brown stressed his "absolute" support for Mr Blair but dodged repeated questions from reporters who asked him whether he trusted the Prime Minister.

An hour later, at a press conference to launch his flagship Child Trust Funds, the Chancellor again faced the same question. This time he replied: "Of course I trust the Prime Minister."

Mr Brown added: "I have worked very closely with him, and I have done so for the last 20 years, and I will continue to do so. What I won't do is repeatedly comment on gossip or rumours or books that are about to be published."

Blair allies believe the book, written with the co-operation of the Brown camp, has rebounded on the Chancellor. "It is doing for Gordon what Stephen Pollard's book did for David Blunkett," said one aide, referring to the candid interviews the former Home Secretary gave about cabinet colleagues.

Mr Prescott, who was at the poster launch, said Labour MPs were right to read the riot act to Mr Blair and Mr Brown on Monday when they told them to stop their damaging feuding. He said: "It's very clear. The troops are saying to the leaders 'get into line'. Any kind of disagreement is exploited tremendously in the press. Our people are entering into the election, they want to see unity of purpose."