There's no escaping Iraq: Brown soon to face inquiry
Gordon Brown is to face the Iraq inquiry in late February or early March - not something which was, I suspect, in Labour's pre-election grid. It remains a mystery as to how and why this has come about.
What we know is that:
• Sir John Chilcot will confirm that he has written to the prime minister saying that the inquiry would like to interview him and David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, and Douglas Alexander, the Secretary of State for International Development
• This letter is a response to that sent by Gordon Brown - which he revealed in the Commons on Wednesday in response to a question from the SNP's Angus Robertson
• That followed questioning a week earlier by Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg at PMQs when Brown made clear that it was up to the inquiry when he was interviewed, but did not say that he hoped they would interview him pre-election
• At the outset of the inquiry, Sir John made clear that he'd only call ministers who no longer had any relevant responsibility - for example, Jack Straw - and would wait to call others until after the election
My guess is that Brown realised that today's appearance of Jack Straw at the Iraq Inquiry and next week's by Tony Blair would lead to persistent demands for him to face questioning too. He would risk looking evasive if he simply replied that it was nothing to do with him when he was interviewed and would face accusations of a behind-the-scenes stitch-up.
If I'm right, he decided that the obvious downsides of facing questioning about Iraq in the run-up to an election would be outweighed by the downsides of being seen to run scared from them.
It might also allow him to try to make a distinction between those who took the decision to invade Iraq - Blair and Straw - and those, like him, who supported them and wrote the cheques but were not involved in decisions around intelligence and diplomacy.
There was, I am told, no private understanding or arrangement between the PM and Sir John in recent days. Indeed, the inquiry team was surprised to receive Gordon Brown's letter, was puzzled by what it really meant and its members are now livid that news of their invitation to the PM to appear before the election has leaked out before they could announce it themselves.
Update 08:25, 22 January 2010: The origin of this confusion was Sir John Chilcot's statement on 17 December that the committee is "determined to remain firmly outside party politics" and that "the inquiry should not be used as a political platform for political advantage." For this reason, the committee decided to wait until after the election to hear from those ministers who are currently serving in the roles about which the committee wished to question them.
I'm now told that Gordon Brown wrote to Chilcot to make publicly very clear that politics was not the reason for the timing of his appearance - which the inquiry had scheduled for after the election. Perhaps he recalled that once before he had been accused of playing politics with the Iraq inquiry by proposing that evidence be taken in private.