Brown: no 'secret deal' with the PM

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Gordon Brown has told allies there has been "no secret deal" over the hand-over of power, after Tony Blair fuelled suspicions within the Brown camp that he is changing his mind about quitting.

The Prime Minister's admission in Australia that he may have made a mistake by announcing he would not fight a fourth election caused dismay in the Brown camp and threatened to wreck plans for a smooth hand-over.

Mr Blair's remarks triggered a fresh round of questions about his true intentions among Labour MPs at a meeting with the Chancellor in the Commons to discuss the Budget strategy last night. One Brown ally said: "A lot of people are saying they want to know what is going on in terms of the leadership hand-over and whether Blair is prepared to name a date.

"Gordon is clear about that. There's been no secret deal, but they have a right to ask what is going on."

The Brown camp was suspicious about attempts by No 10 yesterday to explain away Mr Blair's remarks with suggestions that he meant he was mistaken in thinking it would limit the speculation about his departure date.

Their fear is that Mr Blair may change his mind, and try to stay on.