In Depth

What is Tony Blair up to now?

Former Labour PM has turned to charitable work but continues to attract controversy

Since leaving Downing Street after a decade in power, Tony Blair has continued to make headlines for speaking out on domestic issues, campaigning for a second Brexit referendum and even for his choice of hairstyle. 

The former prime minister was “cheered to the echo as he left the Commons for the last time” before he officially stepped down on 27 June 2007, said the BBC’s James Naughtie. 

But “just hours after” leaving No. 10, it was announced that Blair had been appointed as the Middle East envoy to the Quartet – an international group of mediators comprised of the UN, the EU, the US and Russia – a role in which Blair was seen as a “star player”, said the BBC.

In the eight years for which he held the position, however, there was “near-constant controversy about his role”, said The Guardian.

In his non-political pursuits, Blair began to focus on charitable work. He converted to Catholicism soon after leaving office, and in 2008 he founded the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Countering extremism in all major religions was among its list of goals. 

The foundation’s work has since been taken on by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, a non-profit organisation that supports politicians and governments globally to combat “frightening authoritarian populism”, said The Guardian.

In 2010, he published the memoir Tony Blair: A Journey, a book in which “no cliche is avoided”, said The Observer’s chief political commentator Andrew Rawnsley. The “unflinchingly candid” read came across as “slippery on inconvenient facts” and it “passes over issues that are too painful to confront”. 

By this time the inquiry into the Iraq war, which had been announced by Blair’s successor Gordon Brown, was into its first year.

“A damning verdict” was delivered in 2016 by Sir John Chilcot, said The Guardian. Chilcot concluded that Blair had decided to join the US in invading Iraq before peaceful options “had been exhausted”, and that he had exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein when speaking with MPs. 

“The Chilcot report is damning”, said Keir Starmer, then a Labour MP, writing in The Guardian. He added that it exposed “a chilling lack of rigour and a political culture of deference”. 

But Blair defended his actions. “I believe we made the right decision and the world is better and safer,” he said during a news conference televised by Sky News following the inquiry's conclusion. He described the invasion as “the hardest, most momentous, most agonising decision I took in 10 years as British prime minister”. 

Although Blair had remained active on the public speaking circuit since leaving office, he returned to the mainstream as an outspoken critic of Brexit following the 2016 referendum, and openly called for the government to reverse the decision.

In 2017, he said that “people voted without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit”, and questioned whether the result provided the government with a mandate to deliver it. He continued to campaign for a second referendum, and vowed to return to politics to get his “hands dirty”. 

He criticised Theresa May’s “half in/half out” solution, and authored a scathing article in The
Independent
 that described the then prime minister’s Brexit deal as “not the best of a bad job, but the worst of both worlds”.

Between 2015 and 2020, the former PM was a fervent critic of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party, believing that he failed to take a clear position on Brexit. Blair claimed that “moderates” may never be able to take back control of the party following the “profound change” it had seen under his guidance.

Controversy has continued to surround Blair in recent years. It emerged in 2018 that he had claimed more than £1 million from the government since leaving office, after a freedom of information tribunal in November ordered the release of documents relating to the Cabinet Office’s
public duty cost allowance (PDCA) scheme.

And 2022 started under something of a grey cloud after a petition to rescind his newly-earned
knighthood was quickly signed by more than 900,000 people. 

“Furious relatives of fallen troops have vowed to hand their medals back in disgust at Tony Blair’s knighthood,” said the Daily Mail, with one MP reportedly describing Blair as “an untried war criminal”. 

But there has been some light relief. His decision to grow out a “luxuriant mullet” last year caused online commentators to draw comparisons with Brad Pitt, Gandalf and Doctor Who

He told the Evening Standard that his locks hadn’t been this long since he was in a rock band called Ugly Rumours at university, adding that a haircut would be “happening imminently”.

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