Blair and Brown: The real story

Posted in Other | 22-Oct-04 | Author: Andrew Grice| Source: The Independent

Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown (L) looks at Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Tony Blair offered Gordon Brown an astonishing pact under which he would stand down as Prime Minister before the next general election if the Chancellor threw his weight behind a plan to take Britain into the single currency.

The deal is revealed in a book by Clare Short, the former cabinet minister and a close Brown ally, who was twice used as a go-between by Mr Blair to propose the remarkable trade-off with the Chancellor. Mr Brown bluntly rejected the idea, refusing to put his personal ambition before Britain's economic interests and insisting the country was not ready to join the euro.

Ms Short's book, serialised in The Independent from today, lifts the lid on the stormy relationship between Mr Blair and Mr Brown, who made clear to her that he did not trust the Prime Minister to honour any such handover deal.

The book, An Honourable Deception?, reveals that Mr Brown said he was "sick of fighting against bad proposals" by Downing Street such as removing child benefit from the parents of truants which he defeated and foundation hospitals and university top-up fees, which went ahead.

The Chancellor told Ms Short he feared Mr Blair would oust him from the Treasury after the Iraq war. "He said they planned a short war and a reshuffle. He felt very much under pressure and believed they wanted to move him from being Chancellor," she writes.

Mr Brown vowed that "he wouldn't take any other job". Although some Blair aides are urging the Prime Minister to move Mr Brown to the Foreign Office after the next election, the Chancellor's remarks make clear he would go to the Labour backbenches instead.

According to Ms Short's diary, Mr Brown complained that the "Number 10 briefing against him would get worse and nasty ... TB doesn't listen to him any more and was listening only to non-Labour voices and thinking about his reputation in history".

The Prime Minister told Ms Short he did not want to serve a third term. He announced last month that he now intends to serve a full one.

On a trip to west Africa in February 2002, Mr Blair told Ms Short that "he really needed Gordon to help him more". She writes: "He then went on to say, in a confidential manner, that he really did not want a third term but wished Gordon would work more closely with him so that he could make progress on the euro and if he did so he would be happy to hand over to Gordon ... He made it quite clear that he wanted me to tell Gordon what he had said."

When a startled Ms Short relayed the offer to Mr Brown the following week, he replied that two other members of the Cabinet had already brought him the same message. She says: "Gordon's answer was, firstly, that such deals were not worth talking about because previous agreements had not been kept, and, secondly, he would not contemplate recommending that we join the euro in order to advance his own position rather than advance the economic interest of the country."

At a second meeting in September last year with the former international development secretary, Mr Blair told Ms Short that Britain "must go into euro before election and still meant what he said on trip to West Africa about not wanting a third term". He said there would be "no problem" about winning the support of France and Germany for changing the way the euro operated to enable Britain to join smoothly.

On this occasion, Mr Brown insisted that "it would take time" to converge Britain's economy with the eurozone.

Ms Short hints that the Chancellor had reservations about giving his full public backing to Mr Blair over the war. She reveals that John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, "brought them together" over dinner and that "Gordon agreed to get involved and help Blair". In an insight into how tense the relationship between the two men was, she recalls telling Mr Blair she was "very pleased you and GB talking. He [Mr Blair] said I feel really boosted."

Yesterday, Ms Short accused Mr Blair of using his reshuffle last month to "humiliate" Mr Brown. The Prime Minister sidelined the Chancellor from the pivotal election role he enjoyed in 1997 and 2001.

She described Mr Blair's offer to stand down in return for euro entry as "shockingly dishonourable", adding: "To try and use somebody's ambition to achieve an objective as enormous as joining the euro is improper behaviour."

The disclosure will embarrass Mr Blair, not least because it suggests he was ready to rush euro entry for political reasons. One Blair aide admitted: "We tried everything on the euro, but Gordon wouldn't do it."