'Gung-ho' Blair jibe by Brown

by SIMON WALTERS, Mail on Sunday

Gordon Brown has made his most audacious assault yet on Tony Blair's authority by attacking his conduct on the world stage.

He has told his closest allies that he strongly opposes the Prime Minister's 'gung-ho' support for President Bush's plans for an all-out war on Iraq.

Chancellor Brown believes that Mr Blair is wrong to commit himself to the USA's tough approach, fearing it will increase the violence in the Middle East and damage Britain's economy - and jobs - by forcing up oil prices.

The extraordinary private outburst to close colleagues is a direct challenge to the Prime Minister. It comes only four days after a Budget

widely seen as cementing Mr Brown's grip on domestic issues.

After years of suppressing his bitterness at being robbed of the Labour leadership by Mr Blair, the Chancellor's readiness to challenge the Prime Minister over international issues will be seen as highly provocative.

Mr Brown's views were revealed last night by a close friend, senior Labour MP Tam Dalyell.

'Gordon has let it be known he has grave misgivings about what is happening and the way the Government is handling these issues,' Mr Dalyell told The Mail on Sunday.

'His view is that if our policy on Iraq leads to an escalation in the Middle East, oil prices will go through the roof and that will skewer the British economy. His approach to Iraq is as prudent as his approach to financial affairs.

'He is not pleased with the way the Prime Minister is going off on his own with President Bush. He thinks it is too gung-ho and is worried where it is going to lead.'

Meanwhile the first signs of Cabinet opposition to the Brown Budget emerged.

Labour chairman Charles Clarke agreed that many people would feel 'misled' by the one per cent increase in National Insurance. Labour sources said Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, a key Blair ally, had expressed concern at the tax rise, fearing it would alienate Middle England.

Mr Clarke's comment was backed up a YouGov opinion poll last night which showed most people feel they were misled by Labour's election pledge not to increase taxes, though most thought the tax rise was justified.