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21 December 2009

Exclusive: Brown told Mandelson “you can go to Brussels“

Extraordinary demonstration of personal alliance

By James Macintyre

Gordon Brown privately agreed to back Peter Mandelson if he chose to quit British politics again and take on the EU foreign minister job decided on last month, has learned.

The extraordinary concession, which was reluctantly expressed at a meeting between the country’s two most powerful Labour politicians, is not only proof that Mandelson was indeed actively discussing taking the foreign post, but also demonstrates the mutually supportive dynamic between two men who were at one time bitter enemies.

The Business Secretary has admitted he wanted the EU foreign affairs job, for which David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, was floated and which eventually fell to Cathy Ashton.

But it had been assumed that Brown would be unwilling to allow a second departure from Westminster by Mandelson, who served as European Commissioner from 2004 until he was sensationally recalled to the cabinet by Gordon Brown. The call came on the same day last year when the New Statesman published an interview in which Mandelson backed the embattled Prime Minister at a crucial juncture.

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Since then, Mandelson has been widely credited as having “saved” Brown’s premiership by rallying round him at his most vulnerable moments and overseeing the reshuffle sparked by the resignation of James Purnell.

That, despite this, Brown was willing to allow his one-time enemy to leave his side shows of the depth of a relationship that was always more complicated than assumed.

In the event, Mandelson decided to stay at the heart of Labour’s fight for an unlikely victory next year, “into and beyond” which, sources say, Mandelson will give Brown his unqualified support.

This month, also revealed that the former cabinet minister Ruth Kelly sought the EU economic brief.

UPDATE: There are further layers, complexities and subtleties to this story, and to Brown’s approach to handling the job in Brussels. I will be revisiting the whole thing here this week.