- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2007

LONDON — British Prime Minister Tony Blair, blinking back tears but conceding that 10 years in office was “long enough,” announced yesterday that he will resign on June 27.

Mr. Blair said in a 19-minute speech that he will submit his resignation to Queen Elizabeth II in 48 days, ending a political roller-coaster ride that ranged from the heights of his first landslide victory to the depths of a divisive national bitterness over the war in Iraq.

Directly addressing that bitterness — the issue that perhaps did more than anything else to persuade him to leave now rather than later — the prime minister remained adamant, insisting, “We must see [the war] through.”

He made one last defense of the decision to join the U.S.-led invasion, saying: “Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right.”

When he steps down, the post will almost certainly be passed on to Gordon Brown, Mr. Blair’s contentious and occasionally feuding finance minister, who has been known for years to covet the prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street.

Mr. Blair briefed Cabinet colleagues about his resignation plans yesterday morning before flying by private jet to his Sedgefield district in northeastern England, where he laid out his departure agenda before about 250 local supporters and journalists.

“I have been prime minister of this country for just over 10 years,” Mr. Blair said in the noontime address, which was covered live on national television and radio. “I think that’s long enough, not only for me, but also for the country.”

Betraying a glimmer of regret, the 54-year-old prime minister added: “The only way you conquer the pull of power is to set it down.”

The pressure on Mr. Blair to quit has been building since 2004, driven by domestic issues ranging from a nearly bankrupt National Health Service to accusations that his administration has been selling peerages in exchange for “loans” to his Labor Party.

But the rock that threatened to wreck his government — and even his political legacy — was Iraq.

His decision to join in the U.S.-led war was unpopular from the start. Public opposition deepened after the Blair government released a report claiming that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction — weapons that were never found.

“I decided we should stand shoulder to shoulder with our oldest ally,” the United States, “and I did so out of belief,” Mr. Blair said yesterday. “I may have been wrong. That’s your call.”

Opposition to the conflict continues to grow as the body-bag total mounts, but the prime minister said yesterday, “I think we must see it through.”

“They — the terrorists who threaten us here and around the world — will never give up if we give up,” he said. “It is a test of will and of belief, and we can’t fail it.”

President Bush, who found in Mr. Blair his most faithful ally, said in Washington that he will miss the prime minister.

“He is … a political figure who is capable of thinking over the horizon; he’s a long-term thinker. I have found him to be a man who’s kept his word, which sometimes is rare in the political circles I run in.

“When Tony Blair tells you something, as we say in Texas, you can take it to the bank. … He’s a remarkable person, and I consider him a good friend.”

Mr. Blair was swept into Downing Street in May 1997 on a tidal wave of euphoria after the scandal-ridden final days of Conservative Prime Minister John Major’s administration.

Mr. Blair recalled that time yesterday as “the moment of a new beginning” — the birth of New Labor.

He won a second term, also in a landslide vote, in June 2001, and a third in May 2005 — but this time by a significantly smaller majority, which was a portent of harder times to come.

Looking back, Mr. Blair suggested almost ruefully that the expectations generated by that first, glorious victory a decade ago were “so high, too high probably, too high.”

Nevertheless, he said: “There is only one government since 1945 that can say all of the following — more jobs, fewer unemployed, better health and education results, lower crime and economic growth in every quarter. Only one government — this one.”

One of the worthiest chapters in Mr. Blair’s rule was his leadership in solving what had long seemed to be the insoluble: the achievement of peace in Northern Ireland.

Years of effort came to fruition this week with the establishment of a provincial government pairing hard-line Roman Catholic republicans with equally tough Protestant nationalists in the same leadership.

Britain’s economy boomed for most of the “Blair decade.” But public anger is growing over a string of so-called “stealth taxes” — including the abolition of tax credits on pensions that have cost retirees $200 billion by some estimates.

Within the halls of government itself, scandal has reared up in the form of accusations that the Blair administration had “sold” peerages to wealthy people in exchange for loans since March 2006.

The scandal made Mr. Blair the first prime minister to be interviewed by police as part of a criminal investigation.

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