Gordon Brown attempted to distance himself from Tony Blair's divisive handling of the Iraq war yesterday as he refused to accept any blame for the series of catastrophic mistakes made during the campaign.
He insisted that he stood by the decision to topple Saddam Hussein, telling the Iraq inquiry: “It was the right decision made for the right reasons.”
But he revealed he knew nothing about crucial last minute changes to advice over the invasion's legality or the private assurances given by Mr Blair to President Bush about Britain's support for military action.
Mr Brown, who was Chancellor at the time of the war, also defiantly dismissed accusations he had starved the armed forces of resources, denying he could be blamed for failures over military equipment.
He also blamed the failure to plan for the chaotic aftermath of the invasion on the US Government, claiming he had pleaded with the White House to prepare more thoroughly for the power vacuum created by Saddam's removal.
Mr Brown, who has been identified by previous witnesses as a key adviser to Mr Blair over Iraq, said he had been “aware of what was happening” in the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion.
However, it emerged during his four-and-a-half hours of evidence to Sir John Chilcot's inquiry that there were significant gaps in his knowledge of the plans made to tackle Saddam.
He said he had not seen confidential letters sent by Mr Blair to President Bush, stating that British troops would “be there” beside their US counterparts should military action become necessary.
“I had regular conversations with Tony Blair and we talked about these issues,” he said. “But I do not have copies of these letters and I don't know the exact conversation and he wouldn't expect me to.”
He also said he had not seen a detailed “options paper” on Iraq, drawn up in March 2002, and had been absent from some war Cabinet meetings. Crucial changes to the advice handed to the Government over the invasion's legality were kept from him, he said. He had been informed that the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith had concluded days before the war that military action was legal.
However, Mr Brown had not been told that an earlier version of the peer's legal opinion had only concluded that a case “could be made” that the invasion was within the law. He added he had only learned that there were doubts within the Foreign Office about the legality of the war from reports in the media.
He denied claims by Army chiefs and the relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq that Treasury cost-cutting had been to blame for the deaths of servicemen and women forced to travel in lightly-armoured Snatch Land Rovers.
But after watching his testimony, Susan Smith, whose son Philip was killed in a roadside blast in Iraq, accused the Prime Minister of passing the buck for his death.
Mr Brown also batted away claims the Government had failed to plan adequately for the aftermath of the invasion, telling the inquiry he had begun planning for the reconstruction effort within the Treasury from June 2002.