10 May 07. The BBC announced that Tony Blair has said that he will stand down as prime minister on 27 June. He made the announcement in a speech to party activists in his Sedgefield constituency, after earlier briefing the Cabinet on his plans.
He acknowledged he had not always lived up to expectations but said he had been very lucky to lead “the greatest nation on earth”. He will stay on in Downing Street until the Labour Party elects a new leader – expected to be Gordon Brown. In an emotional speech, Mr Blair said he had been prime minister for 10 years which was long enough for the country and himself.
Mr Blair earlier told the Cabinet he did not want ministers paying tribute to him, adding “that can be left for another day”. ‘I think he would have preferred to stay longer,’ Alan Milburn.
The Tony Blair story
But as the meeting was breaking up, Mr Brown said he “did not think it would be right to let Cabinet finish without offering thanks to the prime minister”.
He praised Mr Blair’s “unique achievement over 10 years and the
unique leadership he had given to the party, Britain and the world”.
His comments were greeted by “much thumping of tables” by Mr Blair’s colleagues, the prime minister’s official spokesman told reporters. Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain said it had been a “cordial, comradely” meeting with “quite a lot of laughter” and “leg-pulling”.
Mr Hain, who is a candidate for Labour’s deputy leadership, said Mr Brown would now “take up Tony Blair’s mantle in the next period of our government”.
The chancellor later made a joke about Mr Blair’s departure plans in the Commons. Answering a question on employment, he said: “There are of course 600,000 vacancies in the economy as a result of the… actually there’s one more today as a result of announcements that have just been made.”
Mr Blair’s election agent and close friend John Burton said he expected Mr Blair to continue as Sedgefield’s MP until the next general election, unless he was offered a major international job. Former Cabinet minister and Blair ally Alan Milburn said thought the prime minister “slightly regretted pre-announcing his retirement” by saying he would not seek a fourth term. ‘He’s going of his own choice – he’s doing it at a time which he thinks is good for the country,’ Peter Mandelson
“I think he would have preferred to stay longer,” added Mr Milburn but he said the prime minister had had “a good 10 years” and had “fundamentally changed the country for the better”.
Mr Blair’s official spokesman insists he will remain “focused” on being prime minister until Labour has chosen his successor – a process expected to last seven weeks.
He said Mr Blair still has lots of work to do on domestic issues and had a number of international commitments in the run-up to this summer’s G8 and EU summits.
But with a new prime minister expected to be in place by the beginning of July, attention at Westminster has already shifted to his succession.
Mr Brown is unlikely to face a Cabinet-level challenge for the leadership as all of the likely contenders have ruled themselves out.
But he could still face a challenge from one of two left wing backbenchers – John McDonnell and Michael Meacher. The pair are meeting later to see if one of them can muster enough support to get on to the ballot paper.
Candidates need the signatures of 45 Labour MPs to enter a contest. Six deputy leadership hopefuls will also be battling for nominations to enter the race to replace John Prescott, who is due to stand down with Mr Blair.
Conservative leader David Cameron has said the country faces seven weeks of “paralysis” until Labour chooses a new leader, accusing Mr Blair of r