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Brown plans 'independent' foreign policy

Gordon Brown signalled yesterday that as Prime Minister he would forge a foreign policy independent of the US and initiate "frank" relations with President George Bush.

Mr Brown also acknowledged that mistakes had been made in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, and he hinted at the need for "reviews into what happened". He added that the West needed a "hearts and minds" campaign like the cultural campaign against communism to win the war on terror.

The Chancellor made his comments in a wide-ranging BBC interview that cemented his position as a Prime Minister in waiting and appeared to distance himself from the Blairite foreign policy of recent years.

Mr Brown's interview took the New Year slot previously reserved for party leaders.

He signaled that he would forge a more forthright relationship with President Bush.

He said: "Obviously, people who know me know that I will speak my mind. I will be very frank. The British national interest is what I and my colleagues are about."

But he added: "I think everybody who also knows me knows that I have worked very closely with members of both parties in America over the years."

Acknowledging that there had been errors in Iraq, he said: "I take my full responsibility and I will not shirk it as a member of the Government from the decisions that we took. But I do say that there are lessons to be learned, particularly from what happened immediately after Saddam Hussein [fell from power]."

He pointed towards the withdrawal of at least part of Britain's armed presence in Iraq, insisting: "I believe it is true to say that by the end of the year, there may be thousands less in Iraq than there are now."

Mr Brown became the latest senior minister to enter the row over the hanging of Saddam Hussein. He declared that the hanging was "deplorable" as he set out his plans for a new style of Government when he takes over the reigns of power.

Mr Brown's intervention prompted Downing Street to break their silence on the issue, making it clear the Prime Ministers believed the manner of his death was "completely wrong".

Number 10 issued a statement hours after Mr Brown told the BBC's Sunday AM programme: "Now that we know the full picture of what happened, we can sum this up as a deplorable set of events.

"It is something, of course, which the Iraqi government has now expressed its anxiety and shame at.

"It has done nothing to lessen tensions between the Shia and Sunni communities.

"Even those people, unlike me, who are in favour of capital punishment found this completely unacceptable and I am pleased that there is now an inquiry into this and I hope lessons in this area will be learnt, as we learn other lessons about what has happened in Iraq."

Mr Blair has so far declined to comment on the affair promising to talk about Iraq this week. But he has looked isolated as senior cabinet ministers and opposition leaders have joined the international chorus of disgust at the scenes revealed by illicit footage of Saddam's death.

Yesterday, Downing Street officials insisted that Mr Blair would comment "at a time of his choosing". But a spokeswoman set out his thoughts for the first time. She said: "We have made it clear he supports the inquiry by the Iraqis and he does believe the manner of the execution was completely wrong."

She added: "This should not lead us to forget the crimes Saddam Hussein and the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis."

The Chancellor used his appearance to pledge a "new settlement" between Parliament, Government and the electorate. He promised: "a new kind of politics in this country... a new style of government in the future".

The Chancellor promised a "Government of all the talents" and added that he would listen more to the views of Labour MPs. He said: "You have got to listen and then you have got to be prepared to talk, consult and debate.

"I don't think it is a change of style for me. I think the issue is that the challenges of the future demand something quite different from the past."