'The prize is 20 years of prosperity,' says Brown

Prime Minister urges America to seize the moment and lead economic revival as stark warning against protectionism is heard in silence by members of Congress
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Gordon Brown warned that the world stood at a "defining moment of history" as he appealed for US political leaders to help drive the international economy out of recession and to protect an "imperilled" planet from global warming.

The Prime Minister delivered a stark warning to the American political classes not to retreat into protectionism, insisting that 20 years of prosperity could be the prize for rebuilding the global economy.

In a 32-minute address to the US Congress, he compared the financial crisis to the aftermath of the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Second World War, and said the time had come to kickstart the world's financial system.

And he called on the US to take the lead in combating climate change: "You, the nation that had the vision to put a man on the moon, are also the nation with the vision to protect and preserve our planet Earth."

Mr Brown, only the fifth prime minister to address the two houses of Congress, was cheered as he entered the packed chamber and won 19 standing ovations – the same given to Tony Blair when he spoke to Congress shortly after the invasion of Iraq six years ago. Mr Brown's warning against protectionism, however, was heard in silence.

In deference to his audience, the Prime Minister did not repeat his frequent charge that the seeds of the global meltdown had been sown in the United States.

But he made clear his fear that the nation could be tempted to look inwards – with disastrous consequences for the international economy – as the crisis deepened. "Should we succumb to a race to the bottom and a protectionism that history tells us that in the end, protects no one? No," he said.

"We should have the confidence – America and Britain most of all – that we can see the opportunities ahead and make the future work for us." In an upbeat assessment of the long-term prospects for trade and industry, he forecast that billions of people around the world would become consumers of Western-made products – doubling the size of the global economy – over the coming decades.

The Prime Minister, who flew back to Britain last night after a 48-hour visit to Washington that included talks with President Barack Obama, insisted that the warmest relations between the US and pro-American EU leaders in "living memory" provided an unprecedented chance for the world to come together.

"For a century, you have carried on your shoulders the greatest of responsibilities – to work with and for the rest of the world. And let me tell you that, more than ever, the rest of the world wants to work with you." He added: "No one should forget that it was American visionaries who over half a century ago, coming out of the deepest of recessions and the worst of wars, produced the boldest of plans for global economic co-operation."

He then insisted: "Sometimes the reality is that defining moments of history come suddenly and without warning... An economic hurricane has swept the world, creating a crisis of credit and confidence.

"History has brought us now to a point where change is essential. We are summoned not to just manage our times but to transform them."

His words were seen as a plea to conservative-minded members of Congress not to oppose President Obama's efforts to stimulate the American economy through massive investment and to support measures to overhaul the global financial system.

Downing Street believes that Mr Obama's arrival in the White House gives a new impetus to the fight against global warming.

Mr Brown predicted that an "historic" agreement on climate change will be clinched this year, adding: "We must commit to protecting the planet for generations that will come long after us."

He therefore called for bold investment in environmental technology to "end the dictatorship of oil" and to create millions of green jobs.

"The lesson of this crisis is that we cannot just wait for tomorrow today. We cannot just think of tomorrow today. We cannot merely plan for tomorrow today. Our task must be to build tomorrow today."

He also called for a drive against poverty in the developing world, warning that discontent over living standards drove the vulnerable into the arms of extremists.

Mr Brown won a standing ovation when he announced that the Queen had awarded an honorary knighthood to Senator Edward Kennedy, who has an incurable brain tumour.

He described the senator from the famous political family as "known in every continent and a great friend".

Knighthood for Kennedy

Senator Edward Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer, was too ill to attend yesterday's special session of Congress to hear Gordon Brown announce that his closest political friend in the US had been awarded an honorary knighthood, writes Leonard Doyle.

Mr Brown credited Senator Kennedy, the 77-year-old brother of the late President John F. Kennedy, with bringing peace to Northern Ireland and expanding health care for Americans, while championing access to education for children around the world.

"For all those things we owe a great debt to the life and courage of Senator Edward Kennedy," Mr Brown told Congress.

Senator Kennedy issued a statement saying he was "deeply grateful to Her Majesty the Queen and to Prime Minister Brown for this extraordinary honour." He said the knighthood was "a reflection not only of my public life, but of things that profoundly matter to me as an individual." Since Senator Kennedy is not a British citizen, he will not be able to use the honorific "Sir" but will put "KBE" after his name.