THE British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and his predecessor, Tony Blair, will be called to give evidence on their roles in the lead-up to the Iraq war after the chairman of the newly formed inquiry forced the Labour Government to open it to the public.The chairman, Sir John Chilcot, was told on Monday that the Government had softened its decision to hold hearings in private, and it has emerged that both prime ministers are likely to be called to the witness box.Sir John, a former Northern Ireland permanent secretary, said that he wanted an open inquiry and this would apply “across the board” unless compelling arguments were made that evidence might threaten national security or compromise the security of Britain’s allies.The suggestion that Mr Blair and Mr Brown will be called to public hearings was revealed by the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, who attended a private meeting on the inquiry’s terms of reference with Sir John on Tuesday. A separate briefing was held with the Conservative Party leader, David Cameron.The Guardian reported yesterday that in a letter to Sir John, Mr Clegg wrote not only that he was “very pleased” to see how much progress had been made in opening the inquiry to the public but that “it was also good to hear you confirm that you will be seeking evidence from Tony Blair and others in high office”.His letter and the new terms of the inquiry show that the public outcry over a closed inquiry into the lead-up to the Iraq war has pushed the beleaguered Brown Government to reconsider its decision and open proceedings to voter scrutiny.Other changes now agreed for the Iraq inquiry include the use of expert assessors to help cross-examine witnesses. These would include constitutional experts and military specialists.Witnesses will not swear an oath before the inquiry – common in Britain – but letters making it clear that evidence must be truthful will be provided.The inquiry is not due to report until July next year, although Sir John has signalled that an interim report may be produced before next year’s general election. However, there is no indication that the high-profile witnesses will be called before the poll.Mr Brown told Parliament on June 15 that the Franks inquiry into the 1982 Falklands war, held behind closed doors, would be the model for the Iraq committee, and argued that this would allow significant players – from ministers to generals – to provide “candid” evidence.The terms of the inquiry are to be debated in the House of Commons today, but Downing Street has already confirmed full co-operation with the inquiry.
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