The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has admitted that Britain’s participation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has cost UK taxpayers over £18 billion.
He was giving evidence to the Iraq Inquiry in London today (5 March), where he said that invading Iraq in 2003 was “the right decision and made for the right reasons”.
Brown was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time that the war began, before replacing Blair in 2007. The Stop the War Coalition today described Brown as the “paymaster” for the invasion.
Several commentators have suggested that, had Brown taken a different view, he could have prevented the UK’s participation in the war by resigning before the issue came before Parliament.
In addition to the financial cost of the invasion, it is estimated to have resulted in between 100,000 and 500,000 deaths.
However, Brown was keen to distance himself from the 'neo-con' position of George Bush’s US administration, with which Tony Blair came to be identified. Speaking to the Inquiry, Brown said that he never accepted the "neoconservative proposition" that peace could be achieved by “the barrel of a gun”.
And he expressed regret over the lack of post-war planning that had failed to secure a “just peace” for Iraq.
He added, "It was one of my regrets that I wasn't able to be more successful in pushing the Americans on this issue - that the planning for reconstruction was essential, just the same as planning for the war”.
Brown also placed great emphasis on the efforts to reach diplomatic solutions before the armed conflict began.
“Right up to the last minute, right up to the last weekend, I think many of us were hopeful that the diplomatic route would succeed,” he said.
Brown appeared to avoid questions about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, focusing on Saddam Hussein’s breach of United Nations (UN) regulations. Critics will be quick to point out that, despite this focus, the US and UK governments invaded Iraq without UN approval.
Many of the questions, and much of the media interest, has focused on whether Brown, as Chancellor, provided “enough” funding to equip troops and provide military vehicles. Others have argued that this is a distraction from more fundamental questions about the ethics or legality of the invasion, and ignores the issue of how other aspects of government spending were affected by the costs of the war.
Menzies Campbell, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, said that Brown should have been pressed further about his role in decision-making in the run-up to the invasion.
John Rees of the Stop the War Coalition said, "Gordon Brown was the paymaster for this most unpopular of wars and was the second most powerful man in the government. He has cleverly avoided the political stigma Tony Blair attracted but he bears the same responsibility and should be held to account by this inquiry."