Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

I'll Name the Day Next Week, Says Blair as He Marks 10th Anniversary

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

I'll Name the Day Next Week, Says Blair as He Marks 10th Anniversary

Article excerpt

TONY BLAIR effectively announced his retirement today, saying he would set a date next week.

The Prime Minister used the 10th anniversary of Labour's 1997 election landslide to say for the first time that he will throw in the towel within days.

"I made clear I was always going to go some time during the course of this summer," he said, adding: "I will make my position clear next week, I will say something definitive then." He told GMTV: "It's right that a fresh team takes over now. It's an honour and a privilege to be Prime Minister of this country.

This is a great country and the people are great people. And there is no better country to be Prime Minister of than this one." Mr Blair is expected to make a formal announcement next Wednesday or Thursday, as forecast in the Evening Standard in March.

His comments come ahead of this week's elections in Scotland and Wales, and town halls across England that are expected to bring heavy defeats for Labour.

Twice recently, Mr Blair has admitted he is a liability because voters want to give him a "kicking" over Iraq.

He also praised Gordon Brown, making clear he will endorse the Chancellor as his successor. Asked if he would "give Gordon 10 out of 10" he replied: "I certainly would.

"I have always said about him he will make a great Prime Minister and I believe that." Mr Blair admitted he looked much older than he did when he first entered No 10. "Slightly more mature is the kindest way of putting it," he said.

Remembering the scenes when he walked up Downing Street, he said: "Everyone was jubilant and I was focussed on the fact that when I walked through that door I had to run the country. In a funny way I felt detached from all the euphoria."

He said his high points were Northern Ireland and opening new health centres.

And he defended the Iraq invasion, insisting it had been necessary.

Mr Brown paid an unusually warm tribute to Mr Blair, saying it was an "honour" to call him his friend, while acknowledging their "ups and downs".

Writing in the Sun, he used the occasion to begin the process of reuniting Blairites and Brownites. "When historians look back on Tony Blair's 10 years as Prime Minister, they will look back on some of the most memorable moments and achievements in our post-war history," he said.

The Chancellor recalled sharing an office with Mr Blair as young MPs and said it had been "a privilege to serve" under his leadership.

"I am honoured to call Tony my oldest friend in politics, of course with the inevitable ups and downs along the way, but still the longest partnership between Prime Minister and Chancellor for 200 years." He cited Labour's social and welfare reforms, as well as Mr Blair's close alliance with America and his responses to the London bombings and the death of Princess Diana. …

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