Michael Gove hails Tony Blair as 'outstanding statesman and performer'

Michael Gove hails Tony Blair as ‘outstanding statesman and performer’ as campaign grows to axe former Prime Minister’s knighthood

  • Michael Gove says former Prime Minister’s knighthood is ‘entirely appropriate’
  • Petition for Mr Blair’s honour to be rescinded has reached one million signatures
  • Bereaved families of soldiers killed in Iraq also vowed to return their medals
  • Mr Gove, though, described Mr Blair as ‘outstanding statesman and performer’

Michael Gove has hailed Tony Blair as an ‘outstanding statesman and performer’ as a campaign grows to axe the former Prime Minister’s knighthood.

The Tory Cabinet minister defended the ex-Labour leader after a petition calling for his knighthood to be ‘rescinded’ reached more than one million signatures on Friday.

Sir Tony, 68, has been made a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter – the most senior form of knighthood, which has been bestowed upon all bar one of his predecessors in the Queen’s reign. 

The decision, though, has been met with condemnation from anti-war campaigners and bereaved families of soldiers killed in Iraq, who have vowed to return their Elizabeth Crosses in disgust.

However, Mr Gove said the honour was ‘entirely appropriate’ on Monday.

He told Sky News: ‘I think we should all recognise that he served this country, he continues to serve this country, and I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to be in a position like that without attracting controversy and without inviting opposition. 

Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Michael Gove pictured leaving the BBC offices in London on Monday

More than one million people have signed a petition calling on a knigthood awarded to Tony Blair (pictured) to be ‘rescinded’

‘But for myself, if I look back at Tony Blair’s record, while there are aspects of it with which I can disagree, I think any fair-minded person would say that he was an outstanding statesman and performer and as a prime minister who put public service first this recognition from Her Majesty is entirely appropriate.’

Mr Gove highlighted the introduction of academies, a ‘crackdown on crime and antisocial behaviour’ and Sir Tony’s ‘recognition of the importance of a country like the United Kingdom being on the side of liberty internationally’, as policies he agreed on with the former Prime Minister.

His comments come after the bereaved mothers of five soldiers, united in grief and fury over the bestowing of a knighthood on the man they blame for the death of their sons, hugged and shed tears as they met for the first time on Saturday.

Last week the Daily Mail published an open letter by Carol Valentine, Hazel Hunt, Caroline Whitaker, Caroline Jane Munday-Baker and Helen Perry to the Queen, begging the monarch to revoke the honour awarded to Mr Blair on New Year’s Day.

On Saturday, they shared stories and lit a candle for their sons, who each died in Afghanistan before their 30th birthday.

United in their grief: From left, Caroline Whitaker, Carol Valentine, Hazel Hunt, Caroline Jane Munday-Baker and Helen Perry at Coventry Cathedral at the weekend, each holding pictures of their sons who died in action in Afghanistan. From left: Gareth Thursby, Simon Valentine, Richard Hunt, James Munday and Michael Pritchard

A petition calling for Mr Blair’s honour to be rescinded on Change.org has reached more than one million signatures

Amid the solemn surroundings of Coventry Cathedral, these ‘mothers in arms’ spoke about their collective anger that Sir Tony – as they will never call him – had received the highest award in the land.

The Change.org petition, which accuses Sir Tony of being ‘personally responsible’ for the death of ‘countless’ civilians and servicemen, also hit the one million signature benchmark just after 4.30pm on Friday.  

It was created by former soldier Angus Scott, who claims the former Mr Blair had been the cause of ‘irreparable damage’ to the constitution of the United Kingdom – and ‘the very fabric of the nation’s society’.

The petition added: ‘Tony Blair caused irreparable damage to both the constitution of the United Kingdom and to the very fabric of the nation’s society.

‘He was personally responsible for causing the death of countless innocent civilian lives and servicemen in various conflicts. For this alone he should be held accountable for war crimes.

‘Tony Blair is the least deserving person of any public honour, particularly anything awarded by Her Majesty the Queen.’ 

Mr Blair has long faced criticism for sending troops into Afghanistan and Iraq, a decision which culminated in a devastating report by Sir John Chilcot in 2016 which found he overplayed evidence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. 

A total of 179 British Armed Forces personnel and Ministry of Defence civilians died serving during the Iraq campaign, while a further 457 were killed during deployment to Afghanistan. 

Current Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who opposed the Iraq war in 2003, though, said Mr Blair was a ‘very successful prime minister’ and ‘made a huge difference to the lives of millions of people in this country’.

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey also said last week that those calling for the honour to be removed are being ‘disrespectful’ to the Queen.

Mr Davey, who was knighted in 2016, said: ‘If the Queen wants to knight a politician or someone out of politics in any walk of life, I think we should respect Her Majesty.

‘And I’m rather worried that people are being disrespectful to Her Majesty.’

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