Conman Blair’s cynical conspiracy to deceive the British people and let in 2million migrants against the rules: Explosive new biography lays ex-PM’s betrayal bare
- Tom Bower’s new book Broken Vows: Tony Blair – The Tragedy of Power lays bare how PM presided over a silent conspiracy to change face of UK
- Book reveals how Blair instructed ministers to wave tens of thousands of asylum seekers into the UK under cover of their being ‘economic migrants’
- Also sheds light on his shocking dealings with some of the world’s worst dictators, his relationship with Wendi Deng and Cherie’s jealousy
Tony Blair presided over a silent conspiracy to change the face of Britain for ever with mass immigration, an explosive book reveals.
He ordered his Labour government never to discuss in public the supposed ‘advantages’ of the unprecedented influx.
But behind the scenes ministers were instructed to wave tens of thousands of asylum seekers into the UK under cover of their being ‘economic migrants’. Astonishingly, the minister Mr Blair put in charge of borders ruled against deporting failed claimants because it would be too ‘emotional’.
Tony Blair presided over a silent conspiracy to change the face of Britain for ever with mass immigration, investigative journalist Tom Bower claims in his explosive new book
The main aim of allowing in millions of people was to make the country ‘see the benefit of a multicultural society’. The Blair government did not see its job as being to ‘control immigration’. The policy is revealed today in a Daily Mail serialisation of an authoritative biography of the former prime minister by Tom Bower, an internationally-acclaimed investigative journalist.
Over coming days, we will also reveal:
- A devastating dossier on how Mr Blair deceived his Cabinet, Parliament and the country into war in Iraq;
- Shocking details of his money-making dealings with some of the world’s worst dictators;
- The truth about his relationship with Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife Wendi Deng.
Based on interviews with more than 200 senior civil servants, ex-ministers and other insiders, the book shows Mr Blair did not want the public to know his true plans on immigration. He is said to have told ministers and officials: ‘Don’t mention the advantages of immigration in public because they won’t even want that.’
The rules on allowing in foreign spouses and students were dramatically relaxed.
And, when huge numbers of asylum seekers began flocking to the UK, Mr Blair and his team cynically repackaged them as economic migrants to avoid public disquiet. The book says 350,000 asylum seekers benefited this way. In 2002 alone, Mr Blair gave the go-ahead for 150,000 work permits. Most of the recipients, including the unskilled, went on to become UK citizens.
The most incredible revelations concern Barbara Roche, a little-known MP who was immigration minister between 1999 and 2001. During this period, she quietly adopted policies – with Mr Blair’s approval – that changed the face of the UK.
Upon her appointment, she told a senior immigration official: ‘Asylum seekers should be allowed to stay in Britain. Removal takes too long and it’s emotional.’
Under Blair’s leadership, Labour MP Barbara Roche changed the rules to allow more work permits to be issued, especially to people who would previously have been considered asylum seekers
She changed the rules to allow more work permits to be issued, especially to people who would previously have been considered asylum seekers. Stephen Boys Smith, who was then head of the Home Office’s immigration directorate, said: ‘It was clear that Roche wanted more immigrants to come to Britain. She didn’t see her job as controlling entry into Britain, but by looking at the wider picture in a “holistic way” she wanted us to see the benefit of a multicultural society.’
The revelations follow previous suggestions that Britain’s borders had been thrown open for ideological reasons. Former Labour speech writer Andrew Neather said the aim was to ‘rub the right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date’.
Bower says that during the New Labour years, two million more immigrants settled than the government was expecting.
Utterly amoral PM who betrayed Britain on immigration: How Blair led a conspiracy that let in MILLIONS of migrants by breaking the rules – and deceiving the public
by Tom Bower
For this book, I interviewed dozens of junior and senior officials, Permanent Secretaries and all the Cabinet Secretaries from the Blair years as well as successive junior ministers and Cabinet ministers. In total, I spoke to 200 people.
Even the three most important public servants in his administration — Robin Butler, Richard Wilson and Andrew Turnbull — concluded that Blair was never a suitable guardian of the public’s trust. Richard Wilson echoed the others. ‘There are events during my period as Cabinet Secretary that make me shudder at what I remember because we had high hopes and we were so disappointed,’ he said. ‘He promised so much — but, in the end, so little was achieved.’
‘Immigration won’t be an issue,’ Blair told Jack Straw. ‘Immigration is good for Britain’
Jack Straw, Tony Blair’s first Home Secretary, was worried. ‘Isn’t immigration the sort of issue which can blow up in our face?’ he asked the Prime Minister.
‘Immigration won’t be an issue,’ replied Blair. ‘Immigration is good for Britain.’
All through his three terms of office, the PM never changed his mind. By the time he stepped down, over two million more migrants than the government expected had settled in Britain — but he dismissed any concerns by claiming they were good for the economy.
Anyone against free-flowing immigration was assumed to be a racist Tory, a view underpinned by the BBC’s reluctance to debate the issue and endorsed by Labour’s promotion of multiculturalism.
But what were the consequences? No one knew for sure, because at the outset, Blair never summoned ministers to discuss many migrants’ apparent preference for living in segregated communities. His silence, however, encouraged Muslims and Hindus to believe there was no need for them to integrate with the rest of society.
As Sarah Spencer, an academic who influenced the government on immigration after 1997, admitted later: ‘There was no policy for integration. We just believed the migrants would integrate.’
Even the 7/7 bombings in London by Islamist terrorists failed to rouse Blair to the danger. Instead of demanding the arrest of two Muslim preachers, who were advocating violence on the streets of London, he followed Jack Straw’s advice, who argued that the Muslim community must not be alienated.
The only immigration issue that ever truly concerned Blair was the increasing flow of bogus asylum seekers, which after 1999 became an election issue. That problem was partially solved by sleight of hand. With his full connivance, more than 350,000 asylum-seekers were rapidly converted into economic migrants — complete with work permits and rights to benefits.
Despite Straw’s concerns that it might be the kind of issue that could ‘blow up in our faces’ the PM (pictured with Straw in 2005) never changed his mind throughout his three terms in office
The true story of how Labour not only lost control of immigration but actively encouraged it can only now be told — thanks to detailed testimony from the civil servants and ministers who witnessed and participated in the hithero concealed twists and turns of the government.
At the heart of the problem was Blair’s complete lack of interest — though this would come back to haunt him.
He refused, for instance, to create a Cabinet committee dedicated to immigration or to appoint a specialist adviser until midway in his premiership.
‘Blair never discussed immigration in 1997,’ confirmed his first Cabinet Secretary Robin Butler, the most senior civil servant at Downing Street. ‘I doubt if he ever thought about it.’
Inevitably, this set Labour’s tone on the issue. Ministers were warned by Downing Street not to mention immigration.
Any doubts about this message were removed by the government’s announcement soon after the election that it was introducing a Human Rights Bill. Suspect asylum seekers would be guaranteed the right to have their cases heard by a British judge. This was interpreted across the world as the beginning of a new tolerance.
Straw told Tim Walker, the head of the Immigration and Nationality Department: ‘Tony’s not interested.’ Compounding the problem at the heart of government, Straw added he wasn’t interested either.
B Efore becoming Home Secretary, he had dismissed as ‘racist’ Tory warnings that Britain was becoming a honeypot for Third World economic migrants, who were entering Britain as tourists and then claiming asylum.
Yet the facts were against him: Home Office officials estimated that in 1995, asylum seekers had claimed more than £200 million in benefits — yet only 5 per cent were genuine refugees.
The Tories had tried to stop this opportunism, not least by admitting asylum seekers only from the small number of countries recognised as tyrannies. This didn’t wash with Straw. According to him, all asylum seekers arriving in Britain were genuinely fleeing from oppression and torture.
His officials were instructed to expand the list of approved nations, so Nigerians and Afghans, among others, could also claim asylum.
Meanwhile, Blair’s attitude to immigration had filtered through to the immigration HQ in Croydon, where there was already a two-year backlog of 52,000 applications. Most, according to some officials, were riddled with lies.
But they naturally assumed that Blair wanted all immigrants, including suspect asylum seekers, to be treated generously.
Even failed applicants became entitled to benefits. And the promise of easy money spread round the world, bringing about a steep increase in asylum seekers.
‘Why don’t we stipulate that immigrants must speak English before we grant them British nationality? To make British nationality a prize?’ suggested the immigration chief, Tim Walker. ‘No,’ Straw replied. In public, he was keen to show he wasn’t an easy touch. There should be stronger controls at the borders, he told the Commons.
Yet behind the scenes, he continued to make it easier for asylum seekers. And harder for officials.
To add to the problems at immigration HQ in Croydon, the increase in applicants coincided with the loss of 1,000 jobs and the collapse of a new computer system.
Officials were in despair. Thousands of Albanians and Iraqis, they told Straw, were now illegally entering the country by posing as Kosovan refugees. And they were blatant about it, having made no attempt to learn any known dialect used in Kosovo.
To prove their point, officials set a group claiming to be Kosovan a test in which they were asked to identify well-known landmarks in Pristina, the capital. On the first day, all the Albanians posing as Kosovans were exposed as liars.
On the second day, another group of Albanian suspects passed the test with flying colours. They had clearly been briefed by lawyers.
Straw’s answer? With the support of Blair, he decided the best way to deter bogus applicants was by giving them food vouchers rather than cash. But he refused to acknowledge most asylum seekers were just seeking a better standard of living.
Consequently, officials increasingly approved suspect applications rather than engage in endless appeals before judges whose interpretation of the new human rights law favoured bogus applicants.
Publicly, the government spoke about stepping up deportations. In practice, there were insufficient staff to carry them out. As Croydon approached meltdown, deportations declined, the backlog increased and news of the chaos spread.
The result? Hundreds of thousands more headed for Britain.
The only amusing diversion, in the midst of this maelstrom, was Alastair Campbell’s call to the head of the immigration service: ‘Are there any “good” news stories that we can use for the Sundays?’ No, but there were plenty of bad ones. Kent council was inundated by thousands of asylum seekers who had landed at Dover. When they were dispersed, locals protested that blocks of flats and even streets were becoming foreign territory.
Blair continued to ignore any problems. Instead, he announced he was making it easier for foreign students to study in Britain.
This came as a surprise to immigration officials. They warned Straw it amounted to an invitation to bogus students to enrol in sham language schools and then remain after their visas had expired.
Their prophecy, after an additional 75,000 students arrived the following year, duly materialised.
As migration numbers mounted, Straw realised he had to do something. So, in 1999, a law was passed that outlawed bogus marriage, fined lorry drivers for smuggling in migrants and slightly reduced benefits for asylum seekers.
This might have improved matters, but for one thing. The very same law strengthened the rights of asylum seekers — by allowing them to stay in Britain until they’d exhausted every possible appeal.
Soon, there were lawyers patrolling Heathrow. Clients hot off the plane were assured of lengthy delays before there was any chance of them being sent back.
Again, the good news about ‘tolerant’ Britain spread, encouraging Kurds, Tamils and Sri Lankans to enter as tourists before claiming asylum. At the same time, migrants from the Balkans and Afghanistan headed for Calais, where they boarded lorries to be smuggled into the country.
Others — in their tens of thousands — destroyed their identity documents, making it impossible for officials to deport them.
Before long, there were tens of thousands of new asylum applications. Marriage rackets were flourishing and lawyers were schooling applicants on what to tell immigration officers. By June 1999, the backlog of asylum applications had risen to 125,000, compared with 52,000 when Labour came to office, while legal immigration had soared to 360,000. As Blair ruefully admitted years later, Britain was becoming known as the asylum capital of Europe.
At least the increasing media outcry made him realise he needed to do something. Headlines were a language he understood.
According to David Omand, Straw’s most senior civil servant: ‘If Downing Street was irritated by the Home Office’s failure to produce the results Blair wanted, a chain would be yanked, and the media reports from Alastair Campbell’s briefing signalled that Straw’s stock had fallen.’
While the Home Secretary shouldered the blame, immigration was finally — if only occasionally — being discussed in No 10. But Blair remained unconvinced that government policies were at fault. The reason for the upsurge in asylum seekers, he claimed, was the improving economy and our failure to make ID cards compulsory.
At no stage did he ask Omand probing questions about the serious problems faced by officials or the terrible mess in Croydon.
Like Straw, Blair was careful never publicly to mention the rising number of immigrants from India and Pakistan who could now enter Britain. Nor did he consider how to provide housing, schools and healthcare for an additional 300,000 people arriving a year.
Least of all did either of them question whether the immigrants would have any effect on the lives of the British working class. (Nine years later, a report by the Migration Advisory Committee found that 23 British workers had been displaced for every 100 foreign-born workers employed here.)
Could this chicanery get any worse? It did — with the appointment of Barbara Roche as Junior Immigration Minister.
Blair refused to create a Cabinet committee dedicated to immigration or to appoint a specialist adviser until midway in his premiership. Pictured: Blair being interview in February 2016
Blair’s only instruction to her was to deport bogus asylum seekers. But Roche wasn’t playing. In her first conversation with a senior immigration official, she was candid: ‘I think asylum seekers should be allowed to stay. Removal takes too long, and it’s emotional.’ Even the word ‘bogus,’ she maintained, created a negative feeling.
‘It was clear Roche wanted more immigrants to come to Britain,’ recalled Stephen Boys-Smith, the new head of the immigration directorate. ‘She didn’t see her job as controlling entry, but by looking at the wider picture “in a holistic way” she wanted us to see the benefit of a multicultural society.’
Jack Straw never openly contradicted Roche — it simply wasn’t worth the risk of alienating the Labour Party. So she set to work on a speech, in which she outlined the advantages of reducing controls to immigration and portrayed asylum seekers as skilled labour. She didn’t discuss what she was going to say with Straw.
‘He wasn’t interested. And nor was Blair,’ she said. ‘[Blair] didn’t understand the process and wasn’t interested in the detail . . . He was shallow. He had no grasp of immigration policy. There was no policy.’
Blair’s only instruction to his new junior immigration minister Barbara Roche was to deport bogus asylum seekers
In her speech, Roche argued for more work permits for migrants, skating over the fact that the number of permits had already risen to 40,000 — compared with 25,000 when Labour entered office.
That way, she claimed, economic migrants would no longer have to pose as asylum seekers. Roche described them as the ‘entrepreneurs, the scientists, the high-technology specialists who make the global economy tick’. She refused to be tied down on how many more would arrive as a direct result of her policy. Setting target figures, she said, would be a ‘foolish’ mistake.
Once Roche had finished her draft, she showed it to Straw, but he made no comment. Finally, the speech was sent to No 10 for approval. At this point, Charlie Falconer, minister at the Cabinet Office, spotted that Roche was using economic migrants as a smokescreen for increasing immigration. The speech, he said, should not be delivered.
His warning was ignored — so the pro-immigration lobby assumed Blair endorsed Roche’s views. The speech was duly delivered to a select gathering of the converted.
‘Well done, Barbara,’ Blair told Roche soon afterwards. Despite its controversial content, her speech passed relatively unnoticed. But migrants quickly grasped its importance and passed the news on to their friends and family across the world.
Labour was letting more people in, they told them, and — unlike other European countries — Britain would provide benefits and state housing.
Few in Whitehall had understood the implications, so there was no discussion about providing additional homes, schools or hospitals.
One of Roche’s legacies was hundreds more migrants camped in squalor in Sangatte, outside Calais, where they tried to smuggle themselves onto lorries.
News about the new liberalism — and in particular the welfare benefits — now began attracting Somalis who’d previously settled in other EU countries. Although there was no historic or cultural link between Somalia and Britain, more than 200,000 came.
Since most were untrained and would be dependent on welfare, the Home Office could have refused them entry. But they were granted ‘exceptional leave to remain’.
As ever more asylum seekers continued to arrive, Blair remained mute about the large increase of immigrants.
Even the 7/7 bombings in London by Islamist terrorists failed to rouse Blair to the danger. Instead of demanding the arrest of two Muslim preachers, who were advocating violence on the streets of London, he followed Jack Straw’s advice, who argued that the Muslim community must not be alienated
After the 2001 election, Straw was replaced by David Blunkett, who complained he’d inherited ‘a mess.’ The previous year, there had been 97,000 asylum applications, another record number. Only 10,185 were genuine. Yet only 4,870 were deported.
That clearly needed attention. But Blunkett neither discussed nor reduced immigration of ‘family members’ from the Indian sub-continent, then running at 210,000 a year.
He decided to admit asylum seekers as skilled migrants. Blair approved the ruse, giving Blunkett the go-ahead to issue 150,000 work permits in 2002.
Still the numbers rose. In 2001, Blunkett was told that over 500,000 migrants (compared with the government’s original estimate of 100,000) would have arrived by the end of the year. Fortunately for him, Blair didn’t care about the numbers — he was only concerned to announce the deportation of more bogus asylum seekers.
‘We need to build 15 detention centres,’ Blunkett replied. But Chancellor Gordon Brown would approve only three.
Get rid of the voucher system, Blair suggested, pointing out it was disliked by both trade union officials and the migrants. Officials scratched their heads. The introduction of vouchers was thought to be responsible for deterring around 100,000 a year. But Blunkett agreed the vouchers should go.
Quietly, the Home Secretary set to work. With Blair’s agreement, he reduced the backlog of asylum applications by approving the entry of 50,000 more people. ‘I want people to come here freely and I want them to work,’ Blunkett told a civil servant.
Immigrants, Blair said, should continue to enter Britain in a managed fashion, but bogus asylum seekers were ‘a real problem’
Blair agreed, but he was wary of public opinion. ‘Don’t mention the advantages of immigration in public,’ he cautioned ministers ‘because they won’t even want that.’ The electorate, he said, should be told only about the efforts to stop ‘bad’ immigration.
Naturally, Blair didn’t mention that the latest amnesty for 50,000 asylum seekers had been quietly extended to include more than 150,000 foreigners living here illegally.
This threw up some anomalies that were almost beyond parody — such as the granting of a work permit to a one-legged Romanian who described himself as a roofer.
Still more migrants came. (Numbers peaked at 591,000 in 2010, five times higher than when Blair came to power.)
Then four Algerian asylum seekers — all living on benefits — were arrested in London and Manchester in 2003 for making a bomb containing the deadly poison ricin. Smarting from the resulting outcry, Blair called Blunkett.
‘I’ve made a commitment on BBC TV about cutting down the number of asylum seekers,’ he said. ‘I hope you understand.’
‘What!’ shouted Blunkett. ‘By how much?’
‘By half within six months,’ replied Blair. With that, he ended the conversation.
As so often, the Prime Minister had deployed an empty promise to defuse a problem he had no idea how to solve. Or, as Blunkett put it, he was governing Britain via the media, and ‘he thought he could wave a magic wand and [make things] happen’.
Blunkett instructed immigration HQ to fast-track yet more asylum applications and speed up the approval of work permits.
His decisions remained unanounced, but the public had ceased to trust Labour on immigration. By the start of Blair’s third term, research revealed that 85 per cent of the electorate condemned the government’s policy.
Yet Tony Blair continued to pursue his policy regardless. Immigrants, he said, should continue to enter Britain in a managed fashion, but bogus asylum seekers were ‘a real problem’.
And for that, he had no solutions to offer.
Tony Blair’s stash of private letters and the blonde assistant who drove Cherie mad with jealousy
Just months after the 1997 General Election that swept Tony Blair to power, rivalries, jealousies and personal insecurities were plaguing his household. At the centre of the maelstrom was Cherie.
She was undoubtedly intelligent, but far from brilliant. Contrary to newspaper profiles at the time, she was not an outstanding lawyer and nor could she boast of having a glittering career. However, she was instinctively political — and keen to participate in her husband’s government, though she realised the consequences could be fatal.
So she festered with mounting resentment when Blair’s entourage excluded her from discussions about affairs of state.
A new book reveals how shortly after the General Election, Number 10 was riven with problems and anxieties – and Cherie Blair was at the centre. Not least were her concerns about Anji Hunter (left), then Tony Blair’s political assistant, brushes his suit jacket before he addresses a meeting during the general election campaign
There were other problems. She had agreed with Gordon Brown that her family would move into the larger flat in 11 Downing Street while the Chancellor occupied the flat at No 10. But as soon as she got there, she complained to Robin Butler, the distinguished Cabinet Secretary, about the shabby state of the place.
The carpet was worn, the kitchen was old, her daughter’s mattress needed replacing and the stale smell of cigars — smoked by former Tory Chancellor Ken Clarke — had infused every fabric.
‘I won’t sleep in Ken Clarke’s bed,’ Tony Blair declared — so they spent their first night in Downing Street in a brass bed shipped over from their home in Islington, North London. This was replaced soon afterwards by a new bed costing £3,500, bought by Cherie’s close friend and lifestyle adviser, Carole Caplin.
Nor was Cherie keen on Ken Clarke’s loo. ‘His lavatory is cracked!’ she complained to Robin Butler, adding that she needed a new dustbin. In any other country, a request by the leader’s wife for household replacements would have been granted automatically, but Butler felt insulted by Cherie’s haughty tone.
Tact towards Downing Street officials, he noted, was alien to her. Even Blair must have realised she’d gone too far: to avoid further embarrassment, he vetoed the installation of a new kitchen and offered to pay for the entire refurbishment of the No 11 flat himself.
The chic and good-looking blonde (pictured) had been Blair’s very close friend when he was a teenager, and had worked for him as an intimate assistant since 1994
Cherie’s prickly attitude towards the staff had been in evidence from the moment she entered Downing Street and dumped her bags at the entrance door, expecting someone to carry them upstairs.
Imperiously, she’d also launched a raid on the No 10 flat in the hours just before Brown arrived in Downing Street, ordering that a sofa and TV set should be pushed across the corridor into No 11.
By then, it should be said, officials already had an inkling of what to expect. Indeed there was some irritation at all the time and money that had been wasted before the Blairs even moved in.
Just before the election, Butler had spent hours with the couple, poring over the floor plans of the two flats in Downing Street.
Dissatisfied with both of them, the Blairs decided to remain in Islington. The police and the security agencies had then built guard huts around their house and replaced window panes with bomb-proof glass — only for Cherie, with little grace, to change her mind. This pattern would become familiar.
It didn’t take long for unflattering stories about Cherie to start appearing in newspapers — for example, when someone let slip that she had taken a hairdresser and beautician along to one of her husband’s summits abroad. Annoyed by what she viewed as a betrayal, Cherie fumed when the Civil Service asked for repayment of the costs.
Although she was determined to be the first Prime Minister’s wife who didn’t remain in the shadows, she was already discovering the disadvantages of being in the public eye.
Insecure about her unphotogenic appearance, she was sensitive to media criticism about her clothes and a pendant she wore to ward off evil spirits.
And not only did most newspaper accounts mention her drunken, adulterous father, the actor Tony Booth, but they were starting to focus on her fixation with money. By using her name, for instance, she was avidly seeking discounts and free services from various businesses — even a piano shop.
But behind the scenes, one of her biggest issues concerned her husband’s desire to keep Anji Hunter on his staff. The chic and good-looking blonde had been Blair’s very close friend when he was a teenager, and had worked for him as an intimate assistant since 1994.
Unfortunately, Cherie discovered an old collection of affectionate notes between Blair and Anji in a cardboard box, and this sparked raw jealousy.
In a succession of rows, she demanded that Hunter be fired. Her husband pleaded that a prime minister was surely entitled to employ people he trusted. But this cut no ice with Cherie.
After a succession of exhausting arguments, Blair finally managed to persuade Cherie that Hunter should be allowed to stay. Michael Levy, the Labour Party’s fundraiser, was then asked to broker a suitable job description for the assistant with the Civil Service.
Thus Anji Hunter became the ‘special assistant for presentation and planning’. To assuage her humiliation, Cherie sent Hunter a note that outlined the restrictive terms of her employment: ‘In so far as your job brings you into contact with me, that will be kept to a minimum . . . I trust this is clear.’
Gregarious and warm towards those she trusted, Cherie — as Anji Hunter discovered — could also deploy bitchiness that crushed like a Centurion tank.
Her jealousy continued to rage unabated. More than a year later, around Christmas 1998, Cherie burst into Blair’s office while he was talking with his assistant.
In a ferocious outburst, she rounded on Hunter. ‘When are you leaving?’ she demanded to know. Hunter said nothing. Cherie then demanded that she should be fired, before storming out of the office.
Later, she attacked her husband for ignoring her feelings. Blair retorted that she was being ridiculous and could damage the government; she would simply have to accept that Hunter was staying.
In 2001, just before the General Election, the atmosphere in the flat was poisoned by a 90-minute row between Blair, Cherie, Alastair Campbell and his combative partner Fiona Millar who acted as Cherie’s aide. Again, Anji Hunter was the point of contention, with Cherie and Millar demanding that she be sacked.
A fed up Hunter eventually told Blair (pictured 1999) she had had enough and was leaving after the 2001 election – but he pleaded with her to stay
Fiona Millar also upped the ante by telling the Prime Minister that his government was too Right-wing, and that he should fire his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell. Blair held firm: he was the prime minister and he would be the one to decide on his staff.
As for Hunter, she’d had enough. She told Blair that she would definitely be leaving No 10 after the election. But he pleaded with her to stay. The election came and went, but the war of Blair’s women went on with Cherie and Millar again insisting that Hunter be dismissed.
As long as her husband’s assistant remained in place, said Cherie, she herself would continue to feel sidelined. Her jealousy may have been irrational but it was ineradicable.
Cherie was ‘being ridiculous’, declared Blair, startled by the vehemence of the ultimatum.
The issue was still not resolved when the Blairs left for a holiday in Mexico, where they underwent a ‘rebirthing experience’, which involved covering themselves with watermelon, papaya and mud and screaming loudly to signal the pain of birth. When they got back, Blair had changed his mind: Hunter should leave. Her continued presence was aggravating his relationship with Cherie — and, in any case, his assistant had been offered a senior post at oil giant BP. Relations between the two old friends appeared to have deteriorated to such an extent that Blair didn’t show up at Hunter’s farewell party.
But even once her jealousy had abated, his wife was still proving troublesome. At the beginning of December 2002, the Mail published a story revealing that Cherie had bought two flats in Bristol, worth £270,000, with the help of convicted fraudster Peter Foster, the boyfriend of Carole Caplin.
He had negotiated a £40,000 discount on the flats by dropping the Blairs’ name to the developer.
When Blair asked his wife whether she’d had any contact with Foster, however, she said no — an answer Campbell duly repeated to the media.
It was untrue. The Mail had obtained copies of emails between the two, including Cherie’s thanks to Foster for his help. ‘You are a star,’ she had written.
The resulting storm was exacerbated by Blair’s peculiar relationship with Caplin.
Staff at Chequers reported that she stayed there for extended periods in order to give massages to the prime minister. Occasionally, he went to her London home for anti-toxin rubbing treatments.
Inevitably, there was gossip about the nature of their relationship.
Hunter was then offered a senior post at oil giant BP, but by then relations between the two old friends appeared to have deteriorated to such an extent that Blair didn’t show up at Hunter’s farewell party
Ever since 1994, Campbell and Millar had disliked Caplin and warned that her presence in the Blairs’ lives would become a problem.
But, mindful of Cherie’s needs, Blair had rejected their warnings. Campbell, an ex-alcoholic, became venomous after the Mail proved that Cherie had lied. Without any attempt to hide his anger, he briefed journalists against the prime minister’s wife and openly scorned Caplin.
In the meltdown that followed, Blair raged at everyone. The crisis finally ended when Cherie made a tearful apology on TV. Fiona Millar stayed in Downing Street and Caplin left.
But it wasn’t long before the prime minister’s wife was showing her teeth again.
Ros Mark, the children’s former nanny, had written an anodyne book about her time with the Blairs for a children’s charity — and Cherie launched a lawsuit against her in a case even the lawyers involved in it regarded as vindictive.
Why did Tony Blair put up with all this? To date, no one has really succeeded in unravelling their relationship.
The worst that can be said is that their marriage thrives on mutual irritation.
Some have even praised Cherie for transforming a geeky youth into a calm socialite who is able to pacify her hysteria. Among her many misfortunes during his time in office was the presence of people she actively disliked — not least Alastair Campbell and Gordon Brown, who was forbidden to enter the Blairs’ private flat.
But in many ways, Cherie was her own worst enemy. Without pausing to reflect, she once asked the Queen whether her ancestor Queen Victoria had really had an affair with her servant John Brown.
She also matily told Princess Anne: ‘Call me Cherie.’
‘I’d rather not, Mrs Blair,’ Anne replied.
Similarly inappropriate was Cherie’s boast to a Sun photographer, who was taking pictures in the Downing Street garden, that her husband ‘does it five times a night’. (Blair himself confirmed this to the photographer: ‘At least! I can do it more, depending how I feel’ — and his boast was overheard by the Sun’s political editor.)
Then there was Cherie’s visit to Australia, where she found it impossible to pass up an offer by a Melbourne shop owner to ‘take something’ as a gift. She grabbed 68 items.
‘I wish she didn’t have this thing about a bargain,’ Blair told Peter Mandelson.
On Cherie’s return, he pleaded with her: ‘When we leave, we’ll have lots of money. We’ll have enough. You’ve got to stop this.’
They would be seriously wealthy, he promised — with enough to stop her familiar plea of: ‘Why can’t we go by private plane?’
Today, with the couple’s £25 million property empire and burgeoning wealth from questionable sources, she has finally got her way.
EAST EUROPEANS? DON’T WORRY HOW MANY COME HERE
Tony Blair’s brief in July 2002 to the new head of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND), Bill Jeffrey, was characteristically confusing. Jeffrey should sharply reduce the number of illegal migrants and chase bogus students, said Blair.
On the other hand, he added: ‘I’m all for good immigration.’
Jeffrey appeared to be unaware of ‘managed migration’ and how controls had been relaxed under the guise of work permits.
Home Secretary David Blunkett had reached an understanding with Blair about immigration. The two had discussed whether the citizens of eight European states (known as the A8 nations) due to become members of the EU in May 2004 should be allowed to work in Britain immediately.
Other EU countries, including Germany, planned to delay such privileges for seven years.
Initially, Blair was wary about lifting all restrictions on migrants from the new EU states. His misgivings were addressed during a trip to Warsaw, where his hosts in the British embassy described the virtues of allowing unlimited numbers of Poles into Britain.
‘Let’s be good Europeans,’ Blair was told by the Foreign Office’s senior representative.
‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘We shouldn’t worry about numbers.’
In London, the Treasury’s Permanent Secretary Andrew Turnbull agreed. The Germans, he thought, were ‘crazy’ to pass up the opportunity of employing hard-working East Europeans. The only concern was public opinion. People were alarmed by what some Blair aides called ‘the immigration tinderbox’.
The solution, everyone agreed, was simple: they would just avoid mentioning numbers.
‘Is this handleable?’ Blair asked.
‘Yes,’ replied Blunkett. ‘It’s legal migration, which we can control.’ The truth, as both knew, was the opposite.
Since the IND could not even guess at the numbers intending to come after their countries’ accession, Home Office officials seized upon a report produced by Christian Dustmann, of University College London.
Dustmann’s research for the EU estimated that only 13,000 Poles would arrive in 2004.
(Between May 2004 and June 2007, 430,000 Poles applied to the Home Office Worker Registration Scheme. As the scheme is voluntary, the true figure is thought to be much higher).
IND officials were dubious about Dustmann’s investigation, but the report’s academic label suppressed any controversy.
‘We didn’t spell it out because of fear of racism,’ Blunkett would later say. ‘We were on the side of the angels.’
Unknown to the public, the ‘angels’ in the government did not know how many foreigners would be coming into Britain or from which countries they would come. No civil servant was even asked to make an inspired guess.
CLUELESS STRAW’S FATAL FLAW
One fatal and profound decision made by Jack Straw was the removal of a regulation called the ‘primary purpose rule’. Under this, British Indians and Pakistanis were prevented from entering into bogus marriages with people on the sub-continent as a ruse to bring them to the UK.
For years, this had kept out many suspect fiancees and members of extended families. But Straw had a special interest in repealing it: many of his Blackburn constituents came from the sub-continent.
At least one official tried to persuade him he was wrong. ‘Marriage in India’, she told him, ‘is an important part of the economy. Families will pay large sums to arrange for their daughters to enter Britain, not least so they can follow.’
But Straw was dismissive, and Blair agreed ‘the rule is a mistake and should be removed’. Wouldn’t that open the floodgates? Not at all, Straw told his officials in 1997, predicting that only 10,000 immigrants would arrive as a result.
In fact, more than 150,000 came to Britain from non-EU countries in 1998 — a rise of 100,000. By the following year, the figure was 200,000 and it kept rising.
HMS CHERIE SUNK WITHOUT A TRACE
British troops were mired in Iraq, where they were daily being shot at and bombed. But in his three-and-a-half years as head of the Navy and Marines, Admiral Sir Alan West had never been invited to Downing Street.
‘If I’d been a member of a pop group, I would have been invited,’ he said, stung by Blair’s refusal to engage with him as an individual.
Then he had an unexpected summons from Cherie. But when West arrived, she had just one request: she wanted personally to launch a ship. Cornered, the admiral said he would look into it.
Twelve Type 45 destroyers had been commissioned in 1998 — but West knew that the government wanted to cut the number to eight. So he wrote to Downing Street, saying that Cherie had been nominated to launch the 12th ship.
As West had intended, Cherie’s desire to christen it with a bottle of champagne was never fulfilled — because the destroyer was never built.
THE HOPELESS HANDYMAN
Capable of charming vast sections of the electorate, Blair nevertheless had curious blind spots when it came to more practical matters.
After a jar of honey fell and broke on the kitchen floor, for example, he grabbed a brush and pan to clear up the sticky mess.
On another occasion, when water came pouring through a living-room ceiling from an overflowing bathtub above, Blair decided to use Virgin Radio mugs to shift the water to a nearby basin.
This had little effect — because it simply hadn’t occurred to him to turn off the taps or pull out the bath plug.
PREENING PM POSED IN PANTS
The off-duty Tony Blair was far removed from the PM who wore sober suits. In his Downing Street flat, he’d often don football kit or lilac pyjama bottoms with a blue smock.
He was also fond of a shirt with a nude woman emblazoned on the cuffs. Nor was he beyond vanity.
Alastair Campbell once entered the flat to find Blair clad only in yellow and green underpants.
‘How many prime ministers have a body like this?’ asked the preening Blair.
As for Cherie, she once sat near a security briefing given by General Charles Guthrie at the flat in only a nightdress.
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