Brown forced to change stance on army spending

Prime Minister Gordon Brown delivers a speech at the University of Warwick near Coventry February 20, 2010. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Wednesday that his statements on defence spending at an inquiry into the Iraq war had not been entirely accurate, an embarrassing moment in the run-up to an election.

Brown faces an uphill battle to stay in office beyond the election, expected on May 6, with the Conservatives ahead of his Labour Party in the polls.

Critics have accused him of restricting funding to British forces in Iraq. But Brown has steadfastly responded that during Labour’s time in government -- during which he was chancellor for 10 years and prime minister for the past three -- defence spending rose every year.

He stuck to that line at an official Iraq war inquiry.

But on Wednesday, asked in parliament to respond to figures published by the lower chamber that suggested defence spending had declined in real terms during some years, Brown said he acknowledged that was correct.

“I do accept that in one or two years defence expenditure did not rise in real terms,” Brown said.

He said he was writing to John Chilcot, the chairman of the Iraq inquiry, about the issue.

The admission was a surprising one from Brown who week after week had dismissed attacks from the Conservatives, backed by some former army chiefs, about his record on defence spending.

The Conservatives had a double-digit poll lead over Labour for most of last year, but since the start of 2010 they have fared less well. They are still ahead, but by too slim a margin to be certain of obtaining an overall majority in parliament.

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Dominic Evans