Blair smiles during the Sept. 10, 2008 commemoration of British soldiers at St Paul’s Cathedral, many of whom were killed or wounded during Operation Banner in Northern Ireland. Gordon Brown has formally chosen to endorse his predecessor, who supplied the infamous “Dodgy Dossier” in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, for the lucrative new post. AP photo
By Tim Shipman
Tony Blair is Labour’s choice to become President of Europe, a minister let slip last night.
The Europe minister Glenys Kinnock has revealed that Gordon Brown has formally chosen to endorse his predecessor for the lucrative new post.
In a press conference at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, she said: ‘The UK Government is supporting Tony Blair’s candidature for President of the Council.’
The move has dismayed the Tories, who have accused Labour of a ‘stitch-up’.
And Lady Kinnock’s admission provoked consternation in Downing Street, which mow must face questions over the role played by Lord Mandelson in the decision.
No 10 remained non-committal about the former prime minister’s chances, but Whitehall sources say Mr Brown’s arm was twisted by Lord Mandelson.
The Business Secretary made backing for Mr Blair’s EU bid a condition of his support in shoring up the Prime Minister’s leadership last month.
Leading Conservatives have attacked the move. Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague said: ‘He should be let nowhere near the job.’
‘The creation of a new EU President could be enormously damaging for Europe. Any holder is likely to try to centralise power for themselves in Brussels and dominate national foreign policies. In the hands of an operator as ambitious as Tony Blair, that is a near certainty.
‘It shows what a grip Lord Mandelson now has over Gordon Brown that he has been forced to support his bitterest rival.
‘Rather than secret stitch-ups by unelected politicians for unelected politicians voters should have their say on the future of Europe.
‘Appointing Tony Blair as a President in Europe would be the perfect symbol of this stale Labour Government’s arrogant disregard for democracy.’
A Downing Street spokesman confirmed that Mr Brown has had regular discussions with Mr Blair about EU affairs.
But when asked whether Lady Kinnock’s announcement was planned in coordination with No 10, the spokesman betrayed irritation at the way the news came out. ‘I would not characterise it as an announcement,’ he said.
Sources close to Mr Blair say that while he privately wants the job, he will not put his head above the parapet unless he is odds on to win. Downing Street stressed that Mr Blair has not yet decided whether to run.
The new President’s post will be established if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified by all 25 EU member nations.
With Ireland set to vote again on the European constitution on October 2, the new figurehead will likely be selected at the end of that month, serving an initial two-andahalf-year term, with the chance to be appointed for a second.
It will give Mr Blair a powerful new platform to grandstand on the world stage as the face of the EU, which allies say he craves since his post as a Middle East envoy has not given him the influence he hoped for.
But support for the former prime minister is dwindling across Europe.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, once an enthusiastic supporter of Mr Blair’s candidacy has now withdrawn his backing and is promoting former Spanish premier
Felipe Gonzalez instead. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is also opposed to Mr Blair getting the job.
Luxembourg grandee Jean Claude Juncker, current chief of the Eurozone, is also a serious contender.
While the role is ill-defined, the former prime minister can expect to earn even more than he did in No 10 and more than Gordon Brown’s current £197,689 salary. The post is expected to pay around £275,000.
Meanwhile, Gordon Brown could be regretting the decision to rush Lady Kinnock into Government.
She was handed a seat in the House of Lords – alongside husband Neil, the former Labour leader – last month in Mr Brown’s chaotic reshuffle following the resignation of Caroline Flint.
She has never previously held ministerial office. She said of Mr Blair: ‘He is someone with strength of character, status, people know who he is, and he could step into this new role with a lot of respect and he would be generally welcomed.’
A spokesman for Mr Blair said: ‘As we have said time and again on this, there is nothing to be a candidate for since the job doesn’t actually exist.’