British police considers charges against more lawmakers over expenses

The scandal badly dented confidence in British politics and briefly threatened to topple Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Meanwhile, Brown won’t testify before his country’s investigation of the Iraq war until after the next general election, the panel behind the inquiry said yesterday.

Agency reports indicated that the committee, which is investigating the 2003 United States (U.S.)-led invasion, said Brown and other senior ministers would not be quizzed until after the election in an effort to keep proceedings clear of party politics.

“The committee believes that only after the general election can these ministers give their evidence fully without the hearings being used as a platform for political advantage,” the committee said in a statement.

The British general election, which is widely expected to sweep Brown’s ruling Labour Party out of office, must be held some time before the middle of 2010.

Brown set up the official inquiry following the withdrawal of British forces from Iraq earlier this year.

British critics of the invasion had long demanded an investigation into whether the war, which has been extremely unpopular in Britain, was illegal. Many were disappointed when it was announced that the inquiry had no power to apportion blame or establish criminal or civil liability. The easygoing tone of questioning has also been criticised.

Moreso, the inquiry panel’s mandate is limited to offering recommendations on how to prevent a repeat of the mistakes that dogged the invasion and its bloody aftermath.

In spite of the criticism on the mandate of the committee, AP said it remains the most sweeping investigation of its kind by any nation involved in the war, and it is the first time that many senior officials, including British ambassadors to Washington, top foreign policy advisers, spy masters and military chiefs, have had to answer publicly for their role in the conflict.

Agency reports also added that in the first few weeks of testimony, some senior British officials have been extremely critical of the way U.S. officials handled the situation in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Most eagerly anticipated is the testimony from Brown’s predecessor, Tony Blair, a man whose reputation was badly tarnished by his close alliance with former President George W. Bush.

The inquiry said Blair would be called to testify sometime in January or early February.

Also being called to answer questions around the same time are Alistair Campbell, Blair’s top spin doctor, and Blair’s Attorney General Peter Goldsmith, whose advice on the legality of the war was deeply controversial.

Other witnesses to testify early next year include: Jack Straw and Margaret Beckett, both former British foreign ministers; Des Browne, Geoffrey Hoon, and John Hutton, all former defense ministers; Jonathan Powell, Blair’s then chief of staff and Clare Short, the international development minister who quit Blair’s cabinet in disgust over the war.

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