Tony Blair is reportedly costing the taxpayer millions of pounds a year in police protection, as well as allegedly blurring the line between his work as a Middle East peace envoy and his business interests.
Blair requires as many as 12 police protection officers following his role as prime minister and his advocacy of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a Daily Telegraph investigation published on Friday claims.
Documents seen by the Telegraph allegedly show that Blair sometimes visits as many as five countries a week, at a potential cost of between £14,000 and £16,000 to the public purse. The paper reports that each protection officer was likely to be earning at least £56,000, but could earn more than £70,000 given the overtime they accumulate on foreign trips.
In 2010 the Mail on Sunday reported that the cost of Blair’s diplomatic protection was £250,000 a year, double the cost for Gordon Brown. The Home Office oversees the cost of police protection for former prime ministers, and there have previously been Tory calls for Blair to make a larger contribution towards the cost of his.
The Telegraph investigation suggests that when he flies by private jet, Blair does not ask the taxpayer to foot the bill, but if he is abroad as many as eight police protection officers accompany him.
He has repeatedly defended his luxury globe-trotting, arguing that his lifestyle is no more lavish than that of other diplomats. His office also released a statement denying other specific claims in the report.
Blair is standing down as Middle East envoy, where his efforts to build the Palestinian economy have been circumscribed by the failure to secure a wider peace settlement in Israel and Palestine, something for which he has no official responsibility.
He is to take on a new role tackling antisemitism as chairman of the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation, which campaigns for stronger laws against extremism across the continent.
Ironically, the latest accusations come as the Labour party renews its efforts to rehabilitate Blair’s record in government after several years in which Ed Miliband’s team consistently criticised it. One shadow cabinet member said: “We have got to stop treating the politics of a man that won us three elections like he is dirt.”
The consistent reports about his lavish lifestyle, however, and the opaque nature of his business empire make it harder for those who support his politics to get a hearing.
The latest report suggests:
- Blair stays with his entourage in five-star hotels around the world, with each room for his police bodyguards costing the taxpayer an estimated £1,000 on multi-leg trips.
- He travels by private jet, in some cases in aircraft on loan clients and governments.
- He secured a £1m private contract with the World Bank, while simultaneously working with the organisation in his role as Middle East envoy.
- He struck lucrative commercial deals with Abu Dhabi while also in negotiations with the emirate as Middle East envoy over $45m (£29m) of funding for the Palestinian Authority.
- His team has sought assistance from British officials to further his private business interests, including briefings on countries such as Canada, Albania and Macedonia.
Blair’s office issued a strong rebuttal of many of the claims, saying the World Bank was not paying him £1m.
His office also denied that he had used his position in the Quartet to sign lucrative deals for his own organisation. It said the Quartet office and the then prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad, sought to turn funds pledged at the 2007 and 2009 donor conferences for Palestine into reality.
In June 2009, the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development announced a grant of $45m (£28.8m) for the Palestinian Authority. The money was to help fund community development projects in the West Bank. This was a new commitment from the Abu Dhabi Fund, Blair’s office said.
It also said there were “rigorous systems in place to prevent conflicts of interest arising, including the standard practice of legal contracts containing a clause which states that Blair will not undertake any work that conflicts with his responsibilities as Quartet representative”.
This article was written by Patrick Wintour Political editor, for theguardian.com on Friday 12th June 2015 12.28 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010