Gordon Brown to give evidence 'before General Election'

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown will give evidence to the Iraq inquiry before the general election, it emerged last night. The surprise development could increase the electoral damage to Labour from the independent investigation into the war, chaired by the former Whitehall mandarin Sir John Chilcot.

However, Brown allies hope that the Prime Minister will get some credit for facing the inquiry in the run-up to the election rather than delaying his appearance until after polling day. They hope that an earlier hearing may "clear the air" – and prove less damaging than accusations that he was "running scared" of appearing before the election.

Sir John has announced that his hearings will be adjourned next month so that they would not influence the election, which is expected on 6 May and must be held by 3 June. He said previously that Mr Brown, the Foreign Secretary David Miliband, and International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander, who will be questioned about their current roles, would appear after the election, while ministers now in other posts such as Jack Straw and those who have left the Government would be quizzed before the adjournment.

Mr Brown faced accusations of an establishment stitch-up and Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, led calls last week for him to be summoned before polling day. Mr Clegg's case was strengthened when Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former director of communications, said Mr Brown had been the "inner circle" of ministers and advisers Mr Blair consulted privately on Iraq.

Then the former Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told the inquiry that while Mr Brown was Chancellor, the Treasury failed to fund the armed forces properly in the years before the conflict and cut their budget afterwards.

Following the row, the Prime Minister wrote to Sir John offering to appear before the election. He told the Commons he had "nothing to hide" and that he was willing to appear "at any time" the inquiry should wish.

It had been thought that the Chilcot inquiry would not take up Mr Brown's offer but it has now reconsidered its timetable. He is now thought likely to appear in the next few weeks. A Downing Street spokesman last night: "A few weeks ago, the inquiry suggested the Prime Minister appear after the election. The Prime Minister has always offered to give full evidence to the inquiry and is happy to do so at any time."

The rethink is a coup for Mr Clegg, whose demand for an earlier appearance by Mr Brown was backed by the Tory Opposition. The Liberal Democrat leader said last night: "It is wellknown that the Prime Minister was a key figure in Britain's decision to invade. It is only right Gordon Brown should explain his role in this disastrous foreign policy failure before asking the British people for their vote."