PM: Brown didn't say he could not trust me

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Tony Blair denied yesterday that Gordon Brown had ever told him: "There is nothing you could ever say to me now that I could ever believe."

Tony Blair denied yesterday that Gordon Brown had ever told him: "There is nothing you could ever say to me now that I could ever believe."

The Prime Minister went further than the Chancellor by rejecting the claim in a book that Mr Brown told Mr Blair he would never trust him again after he changed his mind about standing down last year.

Last night Blair allies called on Mr Brown to categorically deny the claim to prevent the Tories from exploiting it. "He's got to say the same as Tony," said one Blair supporter.

Today the Prime Minister may refuel the tension between Blairites and Brownites in a speech in which he will make clear that he will fight the general election on a manifesto that will be "unremittingly New Labour".

Mr Blair's allies insisted that the speech, "New prosperity for Britain", was not directed at Mr Brown and was planned before the latest outbreak of hostilities with him.

Firing the starting gun for a four-month election battle, Mr Blair will say: "We will continue to govern as New Labour because only New Labour can combine greater aspiration, ambition and opportunity for the individual with social compassion." He will promise new policies on housing, asylum and immigration, pensions, incapacity benefit, local government finance and devolving power to neighbourhood communities.

The Conservatives tried to highlight the tensions duringPrime Minister's Question Time, when Michael Howard tackled Mr Blair over the words allegedly used by Mr Brown.

He asked Mr Blair: "When the Chancellor told you 'there's nothing you could ever say to me now that I could ever believe', how did you reply?"

The Prime Minister responded by saying: "It doesn't arise since he didn't say that to me. So the claim in the book happens to be wrong."

Mr Brown insisted that he trusted Mr Blair yesterday, but refused to issue such a categoric denial of the claim, which appears in the book Brown's Britain by the journalist Robert Peston, who insisted yesterday the words attributed to the Chancellor were accurate.

The Prime Minister tried to shift the spotlight on to the Government's economic record, insisting the public was more concerned about that than the "tittle-tattle" included in books.

Under repeated fire from Mr Howard, Mr Blair did not deny that he discussed a plan to stand down with Mr Brown. But he said: "I have explained why no one does deals over a job like this."

Mr Howard claimed Mr Blair had done a deal over dinner with Mr Brown before becoming leader in 1994 and then done another in November 2003 over supper at John Prescott's apartment, adding: "He's the deals-on-wheels Prime Minister. No wonder the Chancellor isn't a happy eater."

On his six-day tour of Africa, Mr Brown shrugged off Mr Howard's remarks.

Asked whether he would disown the comments attributed to him in Mr Peston's book, he told the BBC: "On Sunday I dismissed this as rumour and gossip. Subsequently, every time I have been asked about it, I have dismissed it.

"We are not going to allow ourselves to be distracted from the job that we have got to do; that is here in Africa, putting our case, running the economy successfully, building stronger public services. We are not going to be distracted by what I regard as gossip and rumour."

Mr Blair believes that, despite the short-term damage, Labour will emerge in a stronger position from the turmoil and has a better chance of being united in the run-up to the general election.

One close ally of Mr Blair said: "It's a cathartic moment. Tony has emerged stronger from this and Gordon weaker."

Even some MPs who support Mr Brown believe he made a mistake by cooperating with Mr Peston's book. Although he remains the front-runner to succeed Mr Blair, some allies believe his prospects of doing so have receded in the past week.