Pressure grew on Boris Johnson on Monday to intervene over the decision to award Tony Blair a knighthood – as a petition demanding the honour be removed neared 500,000 signatures and fury rose among the families of Iraq war victims.
The former Labour Prime Minister, the first and only person to date to lead the party to three consecutive general election victories, was the most controversial name in the Queen‘s New Year Honours list.
Mr Blair, 68, was made a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter – the most senior form of knighthood that has been bestowed upon all bar one of his predecessors.
However, the decision has been met with furious backlash with anti-war campaigners branding it a ‘kick in the teeth’ to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and military mothers threatening to return Elizabeth Crosses, a form of recognition given to bereaved families, in disgust.
Although appointments to the Garter are a gift of the Queen and made without the PM’s advice, a petition calling on Mr Johnson petition Her Majesty to rescind the knighthood has now been signed by nearly 500,000 people.
The poll’s creator, Angus Scott, said on the website that Sir Tony ‘is the least deserving person of any public honour, particularly anything awarded by Her Majesty the Queen.
‘We petition the Prime Minister to petition Her Majesty to have this honour removed.’
On Monday evening, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage told MailOnline that the row over Sir Tony’s knighthood added ‘more pressure’ on the beleaguered PM, who has faced intense criticism in recent weeks over the Downing Street party scandal and the rebellion by Tory MPs against coronavirus Plan B measures.
If the petition does reach the half million mark, it would become ‘one of the top signed’ on the Change.org website.
However, the honour is unlikely to be debated by MPs as the petition was not created on the Parliament website.
Under parliamentary procedure, petitions signed by 10,000 people receive a response from the Government, while those signed by more than 100,000 people are considered for debate in Parliament.
Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg said last year that petitions hosted on sites such as Change.org, as with Mr Blair on Friday, will not be considered for debate regardless of the number of signatures obtained.
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.
UK service personnel withdrew from Afghanistan after 20 years in August, but the Taliban retook control of the country within a matter of days. It prompted the families of British soldiers to say they felt like their loved ones had laid down their lives for nothing.
On Friday, a petition demanding Tony Blair is prevented from becoming a ‘Sir’ was launched with 380,000 people signing it so far
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair pictured leaving his home during an official inquiry into Britain’s role in the Iraq war
Then Prime Minister Tony Blair (second from right) talks with Major General Richard Shirreff CBE (second from left) as he visits British troops in Basra, southern Iraq, in 2006
Anti-war protesters are seen massed in Hyde Park during a demonstration against war with Iraq in London on February 15, 2003
The human cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars
The ex-Prime Minister 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, which began in March 2003.
A further 457 were killed during deployment to Afghanistan.
UK service personnel withdrew from Afghanistan after 20 years in August, but the Taliban retook control of the country within a matter of days.
The astonishing collapse of the Afghan regime prompted the families of British soldiers who died fighting in the country to say they felt like their loved ones had laid down their lives for nothing.
In an explanation of his petition, Mr Scott wrote: ‘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 servicement in various conflicts. For this alone he should be held accountable for war crimes.’
Frankie London, 53, was one of the first to sign the petition.
Mr London, of Southend, Essex, said: ‘A knighthood for that repugnant man Tony Blair, but still no knighthood for the last surviving Dambuster George “Johnny” Johnson in his 100th year is a national shame.
‘A knighthood for a war criminal, but not for a war hero.’
Deborah Warford, another signatory, added: ‘Tony Blair should be prosecuted not knighted. Someone like this being honoured shows how corrupt and vile the system is.’
Fergus Murray, who also signed, said: ‘As long as people like Blair get honoured, this whole system dishonours us.’
Mr Farage told MailOnline that the furore was ‘a row’ for the PM which a lot of people were ‘very angry about’.
He said it is a ‘contributory factor’ on top of other issues which the PM is facing, including sky-rocketing energy bills.
On Saturday, Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, said Sir Tony’s knighthood was a ‘kick in the teeth for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan’.
She told LBC radio: ‘I think it’s pretty incredible given that this year, we’ve seen the collapse of Afghanistan, which [was] Tony Blair’s first major war in the war on terror.
‘We have 8 million people on the edge of starvation in Afghanistan now. We have Iraq in a terrible state now, nearly 20 years after the invasion.
‘And I think it’s a kick in the teeth for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, and a kick in the teeth for all the people who protested against the war in Iraq and who have been proved right.’
Ms German added that, while the award has become convention, she does not see ‘justification for it at any time’.
John Smith, son of World War Two veteran and author Harry Leslie Smith, said giving the honour to Gordon Brown would have been ‘more appropriate’.
One military mother, Carol Valentine, told the Mirror that Sir Tony’s knighthood is the ‘ultimate insult’, after her son Simon was killed while he cleared land mines in Afghanistan in 2009.
And Hazel Hunt, whose son Richard died in Afghanistan, was pondering sending back the Elizabeth Cross that her family had received as a mark of protest.
Caroline Whitaker’s son Sergeant Gareth Thursby was shot dead by a rouge Afghan policeman in 2012 at a checkpoint in Helmand Province
Another military mother, Caroline Whitaker, who lost son Gareth after he was shot dead by an Afghanistan police officer in 2012 said she felt the establishment was ‘making a mockery’ of hers and other children’s deaths.
On Twitter, many made their feelings clear following the ennobling. Political commentator Liam Young wrote: ‘The man should be in the dock of The Hague. What a shameful day.’
Another said: ‘The contempt in which Britain’s elite holds the public has never been more eloquently expressed than in the decision to award Tony Blair the highest order of knighthood. One million Iraqis dead, three million dispossessed, a trail of blood to 7/7. Rise Sir Tony!’
The petition on Change.org calling for the PM to take action over the knighthood was launched by Angus Scott.
Sir Tony’s predecessors bar one were all appointed to the Order of the Garter just after leaving office.
However, it took more than 14 years for his own appointment to occur after his time as prime minister of the UK.
Claims have been made that his strained relationship with the Queen during his office might have contributed to the ‘snub.’
Only one former PM has had to wait as long as Sir Tony for the honour. Edward Heath was appointed to the Order of Garter in 1992, 18 years after leaving office in 1974.
Winston Churchill and Harold Wilson took knighthoods immediately after departing Downing Street, while Clement Attlee and Maggie Thatcher had to wait around five years.
Hazel Hunt (middle) is the mother of Richard Hunt, the 200th soldier to be killed in Afghanistan
The decision to make Tony Blair a Sir was met with anger by many on social media, as the former Prime Minister was branded a ‘war criminal’
Sir Tony has long faced a backlash over his decision to lead the UK into Iraq and Afghanistan, which cost the lives of 179 British personnel as well as many more civilians
Sir Tony led New Labour to a landslide victory in 1997, winning two subsequent general elections before quitting Westminster a decade later, paving the way for his chancellor Gordon Brown to take over as Prime Minister.
He said in a statement: ‘It is an immense honour to be appointed Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, and I am deeply grateful to Her Majesty the Queen.
‘It was a great privilege to serve as prime minister and I would like to thank all those who served alongside me, in politics, public service and all parts of our society, for their dedication and commitment to our country.’
Current Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer MP, added: ‘The last Labour government delivered enduring change from the national minimum wage to the peace process in Northern Ireland.
‘My congratulations to Tony Blair on this recognition for his public service to our country.’
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle also voiced his support for the knighthood.
He said it was ‘respectful’ and the ‘right thing to do’ given that the role of Prime Minister is ‘one of the toughest jobs in the world’.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Whatever people might think, it is one of the toughest jobs in the world and I think it is respectful and it is the right thing to do, whether it is to Tony Blair or to David Cameron.
‘They should all be offered that knighthood when they finish as prime minister.
‘I would say if you’ve been prime minister of this country, I do believe the country should recognise the service they’ve given.
‘It is not about politics, it is about the position they have held in this country: It’s about the position and it’s the respect that we show to those people who’ve led this country.
‘And I think it’s a fitting tribute to the job they’ve carried out.’
The decision to ennoble the former prime minister – or Sir Tony, as he will now be known – has been much debated in recent years. It had been suggested that the Queen’s strained relationship with him during his ten years in power may have contributed to the ‘snub’. (He is pictured with the Queen in 2005)
A huge number of demonstrators took to the streets of London (pictured: Piccadilly) to protest against the then looming war on Iraq
Anti-war protesters pack Whitehall in London during a march to Hyde Park to demonstrate against war on Iraq in February 2003
What are the different ranks of honours awarded by the Queen?
Order of the Garter
Founded in 1348, it is the most senior order of knighthood, outranked only by the Victoria Cross and the George Cross. Membership, granted for public service or service to the sovereign, is limited to 24 living people plus the Queen and the Prince of Wales.
Companions of Honour (CH)
The Order of the Companions of Honour was founded on June 4 1917 by George V and it limited to just 65 members at any one time. Appointments go to those who have made a long-standing contribution to arts, science, medicine or government.
Two have been named in the latest list – former Labour MP and peer Frank Field, for public and political service, and Sir Paul Nurse, director of the Francis Crick Institute.
Order of the Bath (DCB/KCB/CB)
This recognises the work of senior military officials and civil servants.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty (KCB) and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance (KCB) were honoured in the New Year Honours list.
– Order of St Michael and St George (Knight/GCMG/KCMG/DCMG/CMG)
This recognises service in a foreign country, or in relation to foreign and Commonwealth affairs, such as the work of diplomats overseas.
James Bond star Daniel Craig, was made a Companion of the Order, which is equivalent to a CBE and means he can use the post-nominals CMG, following his final outing as 007 in No Time To Die.
Knighthood and damehood (Knight/DBE)
These are usually bestowed on people who have made a major contribution at national level, who can use the titles Dame and Sir.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam, Wales’ chief medical officer Frank Atherton and Scotland’s chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith were made knights.
There were also damehoods for UK Health Security Agency chief Dr Jenny Harries and Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
Commanders of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)
People are recognised under this honour if they have have a prominent but lesser role at national level, or a leading role at regional level.
It also goes to those who make a distinguished, innovative contribution to any area.
James Bond franchise producer Barbara Broccoli was among those made a CBE.
Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE)
People are made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire if they have a major local role in any activity, including people whose work has made them known nationally.
Among the 253 who were honoured in this way were Olympians Adam Peaty and Tom Daley.
Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)
This rank recognises outstanding achievements or service to the community which have had a long-term significant impact.
A total of 508 people were made Members of the Order of the British Empire in the latest list, including tennis star Emma Raducanu, Diversity member Ashley Banjo and former Spice Girl Mel B.
British Empire Medal (BEM)
The BEM was reintroduced in 2012 by then prime minister David Cameron as part of his bid to make the honours system “classless”, saying too few people making a difference in their areas were made MBEs.
The medal went to 361 people in the New Year Honours.
Sir Tony has faced years of criticism over the Iraq War, culminating in the devastating report by Sir John Chilcot in 2016, which found that the former prime minister overplayed evidence about Saddam Hussein’s weaponry and ignored peaceful means to send troops into the country.
In a devastating set of conclusions, Sir John found Blair presented the case for war with ‘a certainty which was not justified’ based on ‘flawed’ intelligence about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Blair then said he would ‘take the same decision’ to invade Iraq again if he was presented with the same intelligence as he set out a defiant defence after being savaged by the Chilcot report.
The former prime minister put on a bullish performance as he responded to the long-awaited report and although he made a grovelling apology for the bloody consequences of the Iraq War, he attempted to shift the blame by saying the intelligence was not his responsibility.
In a remarkable performance of self-defence at a special press conference that lasted for nearly two hours, the visibly humbled former prime minister described the decision to take military action to remove Hussein in 2003 as the ‘hardest, most momentous, most agonising’ of his 10 years in office.
At several points during his speech at Admiralty House in Whitehall he appeared to be close to tears as he accepted the ‘serious criticisms’ made of him and his government in the run up and aftermath of the Iraq War and said he accepted ‘full responsibility, without exception, without excuse’.
Responding to the publication of the Iraq War report, his voice cracked as he said: ‘For all of this I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe.’
He added later: ‘The decisions I made I have carried with me for 13 years and will do so for the rest of my days. ‘There will not be a day of my life where I do not relive and rethink what happened.
But he claimed the Iraq Inquiry proved ‘there were no lies’ from him over the justification for invading Iraq in March 2003 and showed neither Parliament nor Cabinet were misled.
And in the most extraordinary moment of his lengthy speech, Mr Blair insisted: ‘If I was back in the same place, with the same information I would take the same decision because obviously that was the decision I believe was right.
‘All I’m saying today, because obviously some of the intelligence has turned out to be wrong, the planning wasn’t done properly, I have to accept those criticisims, I accept responsibility for them.’
In another criticism on social media, John Smith – the son of Second World War veteran and writer Harry Leslie Smith – said the decision suggested it was ‘okay’ to kill people in their ‘hundreds of thousands.’
The appointment, which is made by the Queen, has regularly been bestowed upon past prime ministers, with Sir John Major, Sir Tony’s predecessor, the last to receive the honour.
Sir Tony, a former Labour leader, said: ‘It is an immense honour to be appointed Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, and I am deeply grateful to Her Majesty the Queen.
‘It was a great privilege to serve as prime minister and I would like to thank all those who served alongside me, in politics, public service and all parts of our society, for their dedication and commitment to our country.’
Sir Tony led New Labour to a landslide victory in 1997, winning two subsequent general elections before quitting Westminster a decade later, paving the way for his chancellor Gordon Brown to take over as prime minister.
The 68-year-old famously branded Diana, Princess of Wales, the ‘people’s princess’ after her death and was the UK leader during Allied military invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The former barrister became a Middle East envoy and set up his own non-for-profit group, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, after leaving politics.
Each year, Royal Knights and Ladies of the Order of the Garter gather at St George’s Chapel in Windsor for a colourful procession and ceremony.
Watched by crowds of onlookers, they walk down the hill to the chapel from the State Apartments, dressed in blue velvet mantles, red velvet hoods, black velvet hats and white ostrich plumes.
Sir Tony, who left Downing Street more than 14 years ago, is one of three new appointments announced by the palace.
Appointments to the Garter are in the Queen’s gift and made without prime ministerial advice, and are usually announced on St George’s Day, April 23, but the monarch can do so at any time, and has chosen to coincide with the New Year’s Honours.
They are for life unless a Knight or Lady Companion offends against certain ‘points of reproach’.
Founded in 1348 by Edward III, the Garter is awarded by the sovereign for outstanding public service and achievement.
It is said to have been inspired by events at a ball in northern France, attended by the king and Joan, Countess of Salisbury.
The countess is believed to have dropped her garter, causing laughter and some embarrassment.
The chivalrous king, however, picked it up and wore it on his own leg, uttering the phrase ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ – ‘Shame on him who thinks this evil’ – now the Order’s motto.
The Order’s emblem is a blue ribbon or garter worn by men below the left knee and by women on the left arm.
There are now 21 non-royal companions in the order out of a maximum of 24.
Despite big errors we can’t ignore his successes: STEPHEN DAISLEY argues that Tony Blair deserves his knighthood
By Stephen Daisley for The Daily Mail
This day was always going to come. Convention dictates that all prime ministers eventually join the Order of the Garter – even the ones, like James Callaghan, that nobody actually voted for.
And let me be clear that I have no loyalty to the Labour Party: I’m a political centrist who believes ministers should let us hold on to most of our money and generally keep the ship of state afloat.
But despite that, there is also much to admire. He was the Labour leader who understood the concerns of Middle Britain, instead of dismissing them – as the Left so often does – with a sneer.
His open-minded, pluralistic approach allowed him to sell liberal policies to an essentially conservative nation
This open-minded, pluralistic approach allowed him to sell liberal policies to an essentially conservative nation.
Old Labour redistributed wealth through vicious taxation, especially on the middle classes. New Labour focused on growing the economy. Prosperity, this business-friendly party understood, increased revenue.
Instead of demonising aspiration, Blair celebrated it. He promised to be ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’. Police numbers rose 12 per cent during his premiership.
But equally he recognised that crime would never fall unless he also tackled deprivation and hopelessness.
Where Blair truly stood out was in foreign policy. Few young people today understand how, before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the spectre of Irish republican terrorism hung over the streets of Belfast and London alike.
I continue to believe Britain did the right thing in overthrowing Saddam Hussein. True leadership seldom wins friends
After 9/11, Blair saw Islamism for the threat to liberal democracy it was, cracking down on domestic extremists and asserting abroad the British values of freedom, tolerance and the rule of law.
There are many who disagree with him on Iraq. I respect their principles but I continue to believe Britain did the right thing in overthrowing Saddam Hussein. True leadership seldom wins friends.
More recently, he has been a voice of reason on the pandemic. He was an early advocate of mass-testing and for the vaccinated to be exempt from lockdown. Many lives – and businesses – might have been saved had ministers listened.
Tony Blair created a fairer, more tolerant country at home and stood up for desperate people overseas. Whatever his flaws and mistakes, that is the legacy of a statesman. It is right that his achievements be so recognised.
It’s an insult to my son who died for Tony Blair’s Iraq folly: JOHN MILLER, father of a military police officer, says former Prime Minister does not deserve knighthood
By John Miller for the Daily Mail
The news is an insult to the 179 British soldiers who died as a result of Blair’s decision to drag the country into war in Iraq.
My son, Corporal Simon Miller, was a Royal Military Policeman.
He was 21 years old when he died with five comrades from 156 Provost Company after they were surrounded by an insurgent mob at a station in Majar al-Kabir, southern Iraq.
Si and his comrades were criminally under-equipped, with barely any ammunition, no flares, no morphine and obsolete radios. When they came under attack, they never stood a chance.
I believe that Blair knew when he came to power in 1997 that our armed forces were being issued with faulty radios.
Blair did nothing to rectify this and he sent British soldiers to die. That is nothing short of criminal
He did nothing to rectify this and he sent British soldiers to die. That is nothing short of criminal.
Now he is to be summoned to the royal court and knighted. In my view, the only court he deserves is an international one: the dock at a war-crimes trial.
His domestic record as prime minister is scarcely any better.
During the Brexit campaign, it repulsed me to see him acting as some kind of elder statesman.
He was not even elected any longer by then, yet he appointed himself Project Fear’s ringleader, issuing dire warnings, none of which came to pass.
His arrogance, as he tried to compel the country to remain in the EU, was staggering.
After the vote, he spent years trying to undermine the clearly expressed will of the people. Much of his behaviour as prime minister was beneath contempt: he appointed his friends, ‘Tony’s Cronies’, to top jobs.
Much of his behaviour as prime minister was beneath contempt: he appointed his friends, ‘Tony’s Cronies’, to top jobs
His financial profligacy set us on course for the worst recession in almost 100 years.
His approach to devolution was a disaster. Far from ending the scourge of nationalism, his flawed policies will likely lead one day to the disintegration of the United Kingdom, with the breakaway of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
But it’s the wasted lives of our soldiers that is his real legacy.
Blair would never sacrifice his own sons or daughters in his wars. He sends other people’s children to die instead.
In my son’s bedroom, there is a scroll signed by the Queen, thanking Si for giving his life for his country.
Today that reads as a slur on my boy’s memory and on all those who gave their lives. The scroll will now go in the bottom of a drawer. I was once proud of it – but no longer.