Comment at end
17th March 2010
Brown’s climb-down on Defence Spending, and “amending” his Iraq Inquiry evidence
Gordon Brown today at PMQs: ‘I do accept that in one or two years, defence expenditure did not rise in real terms.’
IS THIS YOUR FINAL FINAL WORD, MR BROWN?
This screenshot from the relevant page of the prime minister’s evidence at the Iraq Inquiry on 5th March should be noted. Apart from the words he said on defence spending –
“…because the defence budget itself was rising. The defence budget was rising every year”
… it is also interesting because his evidence transcript is watermarked ‘FINAL’, as is every page of every witness’s evidence.
LYING, SPINNING OR FORGETTING? WHICH IS IT, GORDON?
After his revelation at PMQs today, the Tories described this as “embarrassing”. EMBARRASSING? It’s more than that.
It’s lying at Chilcot and for YEARS as chancellor and later PM, or it’s spinning with the numbers or it’s a dreadful case of forgetfulness.
NO PROBLEM. JUST ALTER THE EVIDENCE
What will Sir John Chilcot make of Gordon Brown’s request for an “amendment” to his evidence? Will the prime minister be asked to return to the Inquiry? If so, will it just be to respond to defence funding questions? Or will it be on how he could possibly have forgotten these cuts, this man with the mathematical brain as big as the country’s deficit? Or will it be on how these cuts REALLY impacted on the Iraq war, given they weren’t, after all, “increases”?
In response to a press question as the Iraq Inquiry opened on 30th July 2009, Sir John says (my bolding):
“Now you raised the question of the oath. There simply isn’t, in a non-statutory inquiry, the legal basis for administering an oath and importing the law of perjury to someone who is suspected of breaching the terms of it. What I have done, and by agreement, and none of the senior politicians I have consulted have opposed this, is that we should require every witness who is invited to appear to give testimony to give an undertaking that what they say to us in evidence will be truthful, fair and accurate. And they’ll be given the opportunity after a session to see a transcript and vet it to make sure that what they said was truthful, fair and accurate. Now it’s reasonable, I think, given the thrust of your question, to add one thing to that. If someone were foolish or wicked enough to tell an untruth, a serious untruth, in front of an inquiry like this and then get found out, their reputation would be destroyed utterly and forever. It won’t happen.”
Excuse me, Sir John. But hasn’t it just happened, oath or not?
No member of our worthy press asked questions about later requests for alterations such as the one that Brown says he is now writing to Sir John. The press at that time were pre-occupied with their own agenda. They were busily working out if anyone (we ALL KNOW who) could be charged with criminal liability over “lying” about WMD or an “illegal war”. Or they were pressing for all witness to provide evidence under oath (thinks: that should catch him on the other two!)
If witnesses HAD been questioned under oath, what would Brown’s position be now? Any different from how it is today without an oath?
PULL THE OTHER ONE, GORDON
It is hardly credible that Gordon Brown, the man who jealously held tight the purse strings for ALL of Blair’s ten years as PM, did not know that there had been a cut in “real terms” in three, or according to some reports four years of the relevant period.
This is actually very serious. Serious for more than one reason. Putting aside the disingenuous information provided to Chilcot and the rest of us for years (and even today he said “one or two years” when it was actually three or four) it is serious because it seems that as suspected, Brown has never supported our troops and the war effort. Nor has he ever understood the military as did Tony Blair.
It is also serious because of the political implications regarding fighting the war in Iraq, and the limitations it laid on Tony Blair’s efforts. His efforts and by extension OURS.
You may recall that Brown hardly ever said anything about the war in Iraq. As a senior member of the government, and the one providing the funding, you’d think he might have mentioned it in the passing now and again, since it was so fundamental to every funding decision being made since 2003. But hardly ever, if ever, did Brown sound as though it was anything to do with him. It was ‘Blair’s war’, and the least Brown could do was try as subtly as he could to make sure it sank the then PM. And anyway, Brown had the Left of his party to keep onboard, ready for when Blair was brought down by an underfunded war and increasing casualties.
“Don’t mention the war” was the Brown modus operandi.
Just as an election was on the cards and Blair was having a difficult, “wobbly” year when he almost resigned, did Brown in 2004 try his utmost to spoil Blair’s efforts in Iraq? Would he have been more than happy to see Blair blamed for failure due to lack of resources? Would he even have been not too unhappy if more soldiers had been harmed as long as blame rebounded on Blair, the one who always said he took “responsibility”. The one who never publicly blamed Brown for under-resourcing?
Forgive me for thinking in those terms. Brown today is not the jealous Brown of 2004, I know. Now I am sure he understands the cost of war and the value of our forces. At that time he only understood the cost of leadership and not its value. Not to any of us – the country, Blair and Brown himself.
BUT PERHAPS HE JUST FORGOT THE ‘RISES’ WERE ‘CUTS’
If Mr Brown is telling us that the House of Commons Library figures showing he was not correct in his words to Chilcot were figures unknown or forgotten to him who are we to question this?
The Defence budget was cut in (at least) 1999, 2004 and 2006. And in 2004, the year following the Iraq Invasion, the MOD budget was almost frozen resulting in a ‘real terms cut’ of more than 2%. Sir Kevin Tebbit at Chilcot said it amounted to a guillotining of the MOD’s budget.
Interesting morning. On the face of it little of Sir Kevin Tebbit’s evidence was new. We had already heard from a bevy of defence secretaries and the Treasury’s top civil servant about the Whitehall turf-war in 2003 that led to huge MoD expenditure cuts.
What were damning today were the language and the detail. Chancellor Brown didn’t just cut the MoD’s spending, he “guillotined” it. Throughout his time at Defence Tebbit said he had been forced to run a “crisis budget.” (Governments don’t like the word ‘crisis.’ Oppositions do.)
- Watch videos of Brown at the Iraq Inquiry
- Read Brown’s transcript at the Inquiry – http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/media/45558/100305-brown-final.pdf
Note the words “final”. All witnesses are given time to check their evidence immediately afterwards before signing it off. Brown did this, as did every other witness, including Tony Blair. How many others have written to correct their evidence?
So what are we to make of Brown’s admission over defence spending? Admitting that they did not rise in one or two years is also being illiberal with the actuality. In fact they did not simply “NOT RISE” – they FELL. In three or four years. A double whammy.
JACKSON – INSUFFICIENT RESOURCES
On Radio 4 today General Sir Mike Jackson was asKed if it was acceptable and if it annoyed him that Brown has repeated that there had been an increase in spending. He replied ” Yes, it does”. He asked how “a 2.1% cut in funding could be justified in 2004” the year the Iraq war was costly in more ways than one.
BROWN AT THE IRAQ INQUIRY ON MARCH 5TH:
‘The Iraqi expenditure was being met, but at the same time the defence budget was rising in real terms every year.’
‘The spending review of 2004 gave the Ministry of Defence a rising level of real spending, moving from 1.2 per cent to 1.4 per cent in real terms each year.’
IN THE COMMONS LAST WEEK:
‘The defence budget is rising every year in real terms and where the MoD asked for equipment under urgent operational requirements, that equipment was given.’
‘I do accept that in one or two years, defence expenditure did not rise in real terms.’
AND WHAT THE FIGURES SHOW:
Defence spending actually fell in four financial years while Gordon Brown was Chancellor.
In 1997/8, it was down 2.2 per cent, the next year it was down 0.4 per cent, in 2004/5 it fell 0.7 per cent and in 2006/7 it fell 0.1 per cent.
additional chapter to the strategic defence review.
Our counter-terrorism capability includes measures for the police, counter-terrorism police had doubled, counter-terrorism security staff had doubled. So we were also making available additional resources for counter-terrorism in other departments’ budgets, and, as you know, the defence budget does not include the security services budget and most of the counter-terrorism money that we were spending. So the defence settlement was based on the needs of the military, including taking into account the new chapter, which is, of course, the instabilities around the world that we have been talking about. But much of the counter-terrorism budget is not in the Defence Department. It is in the Home Office and it is in other departments, including the security services whose budget has doubled and the staff in these agencies has doubled as a result of 2001.
of resource budgeting?
Gordon Brown has admitted he wrongly claimed defence spending had risen in real terms every year when he gave evidence to the Iraq Inquiry.
In what the Conservatives called a “humiliating climb-down”, the Prime Minister said he was writing to panel chair Sir John Chilcot to explain his error.
The revelation led to renewed criticism from senior military figures who accuse Mr Brown of failing to adequately fund the armed forces as Chancellor.
Downing Street was also under pressure to explain how long Mr Brown had been aware his evidence was wrong before putting the record straight.
The Prime Minister twice told the inquiry that spending had gone up in real terms year-on-year during his five hours of evidence last month. He made the claim as he strongly denied the allegations he had starved the military of the funds it needed as it fought wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But House of Commons figures – produced by Tory MP Tony Baldry at Commons question time on Wednesday afternoon – showed that in fact it fell in real terms in four separate years under Labour.
Confronted with the figures, Mr Brown said: “Expenditure has risen in cash terms every year, in real terms it is 12% higher, but I do accept that in one or two years defence expenditure did not rise in real terms.”
He indicated he would write to Sir John to clarify his evidence. Mr Brown blamed “operational fluctuations” for the individual falls in real-terms spending.
The research note prepared by the House of Commons Library in October last year showed defence expenditure had fallen in real terms in four financial years since Labour came to power in 1997: 1997/98 (-2.2%); 1999/2000 (-0.4%); 2004/5 (-0.7%); and 2006/7 (-0.1%).
The average annual increase between 1997 and 2009 was 2.7%, it said, but noted that “this figure is likely to have been distorted by current operations”.
I understand the Prime Minister’s letter is now with Chilcot. It’s not at the Iraq Inquiry website yet, but Newsnight has it. So as soon as I can I’ll add it in a new post.
Tags: alter evidence, amend evidence, Chilcot Inquiry, defence expenditure fell, Gordon Brown, Gordon Brown letter to Chilcot, Iraq, Iraq inquiry, iraq war, PMQs, Sir Kevin Tebbit, Sir Lawrence Freedman, Tony Blair