Blair and other ex-ministers barred from using UK embassies for own interests

Tony Blair

Former ministers including Tony Blair have been banned from using British embassy resources for free to aid their private commercial work.

New Foreign Office guidelines crack down on ministers found to be staying rent free at official residences and using diplomats for their own business interests.

The Foreign Office said in a statement: “Our embassies no longer provide any assistance for visits of former prime ministers and former ministers, unless the visits support UK government objectives.

“Former prime ministers and former ministers who want support as representatives of UK business must now make their requests through the same process that all companies follow.”

The disclosure comes after a freedom of information request submitted by Andrew Bridgen, the Tory MP for North West Leicestershire, found Blair had stayed twice at the residence of the UK ambassador to the US in 2010.

The former prime minister also allegedly stayed at the UK ambassador’s residence in Paris between 2008 and 2011 at taxpayers’ expense.

On each visit, Blair was accompanied by up to six people, excluding his security team, and his party was not charged for their stays. Although the FoI request had sought answers for all countries Blair visited, the government only supplied information for 20 countries.

The Daily Telegraph previously reported that Blair had been put up at the British ambassador’s official residence in Manila, on a trip to the Philippines during which he was paid almost £400,000 for two speeches.

He had also stayed at the UK embassy in Tripoli when meeting Muammar Gaddafi, the then Libyan dictator, on private business.

Jack Straw, the foreign secretary in Blair’s government, also asked the British ambassador in Ukraine to set up a series of meetings with senior government figures on behalf of a client that pays him about £60,000 per year, the Daily Telegraph reports.

A spokesman for Blair said: “Of the 20 countries for which information was requested between 2008-15, the FCO records show that Mr Blair stayed at the embassies in the US and France, the last occasions being in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

“As with other former prime ministers, Mr Blair has been invited to stay at embassies, though for the majority of visits he would stay in a hotel. He was usually accompanied by one or two members of staff although when on visits related to his role as Quartet representative, and where appropriate, FCO secondees to the OQR [office of the Quartet representative] would be invited.

“Tony Blair has been treated no differently from any other former PM and the notion that he has used these invitations for business reasons is absurd. He stays only at the express invitation of the ambassador. In the case of both Paris and Washington DC he will have had political meetings as it is useful both for him and the embassy to compare notes.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Aisha Gani, for theguardian.com on Sunday 3rd January 2016 12.40 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010