MPs demand public inquiry on Iraq war

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Gordon Brown risks provoking demonstrations on Britain's streets and proving that he is not serious about improving transparency in politics if he holds an inquiry into the Iraq war behind closed doors, MPs warned yesterday.

The Prime Minister is expected to announce the details of the inquiry, promised by Tony Blair, to Parliament this week. Whitehall sources suggest that the inquiry will be similar to that of the Franks Inquiry after the Falklands war, which was held in private by a group of senior parliamentarians.

But Labour backbenchers plan to publish a parliamentary motion within days calling for the inquiry to be "full and public". It is expected to gain support from dozens of Labour MPs.

The inquiry announcement is already being viewed by Labour backbenchers as an attempt by Mr Brown to win their support after the recent attempt to unseat him as leader. He told them at a meeting last week that he would listen to them more before making decisions.

However, many are already turning on Mr Brown's plan. Mike Gapes, the Labour chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said that he believed the inquiry "should be held in public as far as is possible". John McDonnell, the MP for Hayes and Harlington, said that an inquiry that was not public "will not please anyone" and would backfire on the PM. "This is an attempt at a fresh start by Mr Brown, but it is typically cautious and a complete miscalculation. All this will do is increase the sense in the public at large that the inquiry is a whitewash," he said.

Ed Davey, the foreign affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said that Mr Brown would provoke widespread unrest if he closed the doors of the inquiry. "The country will react very strongly," he said. "It is of such great importance to millions that I think we would see demonstrations on the streets."

Senior Government figures fear that a public inquiry would expose matters of national security. They also argue that the inquiry would not hear frank assessments of what happened in the build-up and aftermath to the 2003 invasion, and that witnesses would demand to have lawyers with them, which would slow proceedings down.

Michael Meacher, a former Labour minister, said that while there might be concerns over national security, the likelihood of being confronted with "highly embarrassing" evidence of its role was the Government's real reason for wanting a private inquiry. "The degree of public interest is so huge that blocking access will give the impression that something is being concealed," he said.