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Tony and Cherie Blair claimed almost £80,000 from the furlough scheme despite their huge wealth.

The names of the former prime minister and his wife – rather than any specific business – appear on an updated list of beneficiaries of the taxpayer-funded programme.

Set up in March 2020 to protect jobs during the pandemic, it was phased out last September after 940,000 individuals and businesses had claimed.

A spokesman for the Blairs said they had taken £76,000 to cover wages of staff at Lady Blair’s law firm. Money was paid to them every month the scheme operated.

All businesses and individuals, whatever their financial situation, were entitled to claim the payouts to cover the wages of furloughed staff.

Tony and Cherie Blair (pictured together) claimed almost £80,000 from the furlough scheme despite their huge wealth

Tony and Cherie Blair (pictured together) claimed almost £80,000 from the furlough scheme despite their huge wealth

Tony and Cherie Blair (pictured together) claimed almost £80,000 from the furlough scheme despite their huge wealth

However, thousands of organisations have since said they will pay back at least some of the money after faring better than expected through the pandemic.

Wealthy individuals to be criticised over the payouts include Victoria Beckham. She reportedly reversed a decision to furlough 30 staff at her fashion label after her decision to apply for public money caused uproar.

But the Blairs are not thought to have returned the £76,000 despite his wealth alone being estimated at anything up to £50million.

The controversy comes just as the number of people demanding that he be stripped of his knighthood passed one million.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, or furlough scheme, was set up at the start of the Covid crisis so that employers could cover 80 per cent of the wages of staff who could not work because of the shutdown. 

Around £69billion has since been spent by taxpayers on funding the scheme, the biggest government intervention in the UK jobs markets in peacetime.

Shortly after leaving Downing Street, Sir Tony bought a townhouse in central London now worth around £8.5million. The former PM, 68, and his wife, 67, also paid £4million for a Buckinghamshire stately home (pictured) in 2004. The family also has a large number of buy-to-let properties

Shortly after leaving Downing Street, Sir Tony bought a townhouse in central London now worth around £8.5million. The former PM, 68, and his wife, 67, also paid £4million for a Buckinghamshire stately home (pictured) in 2004. The family also has a large number of buy-to-let properties

Shortly after leaving Downing Street, Sir Tony bought a townhouse in central London now worth around £8.5million. The former PM, 68, and his wife, 67, also paid £4million for a Buckinghamshire stately home (pictured) in 2004. The family also has a large number of buy-to-let properties

A spokesman for the Blairs said they had taken £76,000 to cover wages of staff at Lady Blair's law firm Omnia Strategy. Money was paid to them every month the scheme operated

A spokesman for the Blairs said they had taken £76,000 to cover wages of staff at Lady Blair's law firm Omnia Strategy. Money was paid to them every month the scheme operated

A spokesman for the Blairs said they had taken £76,000 to cover wages of staff at Lady Blair’s law firm Omnia Strategy. Money was paid to them every month the scheme operated

Covid restrictions were eased from March last year, with almost all curbs lifted in July. However, the Blairs continued making their claims – averaging £3,500 a month – right up until September.

Norman Baker, a Liberal Democrat MP, said: ‘Why can’t a law firm work from home? There can be no justification. This looks like an attempt to grab as much money as possible from the public purse irrespective of need and it leaves a very sour taste in the mouth.’

Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: ‘The Blairs are not the only people on the scheme who don’t appear to need it, but have accessed it. 

‘I think there are a lot of people out there who need to have a long hard look at themselves and ask whether they took advantage of a scheme that they could afford not to use.’

The controversy comes just as the number of people demanding that Sir Tony be stripped of his knighthood passed one million signatures

The controversy comes just as the number of people demanding that Sir Tony be stripped of his knighthood passed one million signatures

The controversy comes just as the number of people demanding that Sir Tony be stripped of his knighthood passed one million signatures

Tory MP Peter Bone added: ‘Wealthy individuals and companies have handed back money they have received during the pandemic because they felt it was morally wrong. It may be that the Blairs will reflect on that.’

Shortly after leaving Downing Street, Sir Tony bought a townhouse in central London now worth around £8.5million.

The former PM, 68, and his wife, 67, also paid £4million for a Buckinghamshire stately home in 2004. The family also has a large number of buy-to-let properties.

Their spokesman said it was wrong to single out a furlough employer that fell into the lowest banded range on the list. 

They added: ‘In relation to the December to September months it was just over £35,000, an average of around £3,500 a month, in respect of three members of staff who were unable to fulfil their usual duties because of Covid restrictions.’ 

Bookies face calls to repay millions 

MPs have demanded Ladbrokes pay back £102million it claimed in furlough cash after its online business boomed in the pandemic.

The bookmakers, part of FTSE100 giant Entain, claimed the sum after lockdowns forced it to shut its 2,850 shops.

But the pandemic prompted millions to bet online, boosting bookmakers’ profits.

Ladbrokes claimed £57.5million in 2020, according to Companies’ House accounts, and £44million in 2021. Entain had profits of £175million in 2020 from revenues of £3.6billion.

Betfred claimed between £46.6million and £65.5million from March 2020 and May 2021. 

Its profits rose from £171million to £205million in the year to September 2020. 

Labour MP Carolyn Harris said: ‘Pandemic support was designed to help desperate firms survive – not bolster the pockets of gambling fat cats. 

Ladbrokes and Betfred must follow the lead of industry rivals and pay back these enormous sums.’

Entain said the scheme protected the jobs of 14,000 staff and it was keeping payments ‘under review’. 

Betfred said thanks to the scheme ‘we have not had to make a single redundancy due to the pandemic’. 

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One million people protest against ‘Sir Tony’

ByLiz Hull for the Daily Mail 

The petition to strip Tony Blair of his knighthood passed a million signatures.

Furious relatives of soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, veterans, victims of terrorist atrocities in Northern Ireland and politicians have all lined up to condemn the decision to appoint the former Labour prime minister to the Order of the Garter.

The petition was set up by former soldier Angus Scott, 55, who was angry that Sir Tony – who he said took Britain to war using ‘lies and deceit’ – was being honoured.

More than one million people have signed a petition to have Sir Tony Blair's knighthood removed

More than one million people have signed a petition to have Sir Tony Blair's knighthood removed

More than one million people have signed a petition to have Sir Tony Blair’s knighthood removed 

Mr Scott, a voice coach and Territorial Army veteran, said he hoped the poll might get 100 signatures, but last night admitted he was ‘overwhelmed’ so many others agreed the ex-PM should be stripped of the award.

And he called on Sir Tony to do the ‘honourable’ thing in the face of the backlash and ‘courteously decline’ it.

Mr Scott, a married father-of-three from Dereham in Norfolk, added: ‘I am overwhelmed and genuinely moved by the level of support that this petition has received.

Every single individual who signed this petition should be proud of playing their part in sending this powerful, united message. It has been an honour for me to simply be the messenger.

‘In my view, the people that this petition truly represents are the families of those who have suffered the devastating and terrible consequences of the Iraq war and who clearly still bear that pain today.

The petition accused Sir Tony of being 'personally responsible for causing the death of countless innocent, civilian lives and servicemen', and called for the honour to be removed

The petition accused Sir Tony of being 'personally responsible for causing the death of countless innocent, civilian lives and servicemen', and called for the honour to be removed

The petition accused Sir Tony of being ‘personally responsible for causing the death of countless innocent, civilian lives and servicemen’, and called for the honour to be removed

‘I hope I’m not being presumptuous in personally thanking everyone who signed this petition on their behalf.’

Sir Tony was appointed to the Order of the Garter, the oldest order of chivalry, which is in the Queen’s gift. 

This is separate from the New Year and Queen’s Birthday Honours, which are managed by the Cabinet Office, and because they come direct from the monarch cannot be debated in Parliament.

All but one of the nine prime ministers in office during the Queen’s reign, before Sir Tony, have been appointed a Knight of the Garter a few years after leaving office. 

Sir Tony, however, was forced to wait for more than 14 years which sources claim could be due to the Queen’s strained relationship with him during his time in power.

Only one former PM, Edward Heath, had to wait as long. He was appointed to the Order of Garter in 1992, 18 years after leaving office. Winston Churchill and Harold Wilson took knighthoods immediately after departing Downing Street while Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher had to wait around five years.

The only exception, Alec Douglas-Home, was awarded the Scottish equivalent instead – the Order of the Thistle.

REVEALED: Ex-PM secretly told Bush he’d ‘spin’ Iraq war to world

BySimon Walters for the Daily Mail 

Tony Blair secretly promised George Bush he would lead a public relations drive to promote the Iraq War, it was revealed last night.

The former prime minister’s pledge, which was approved by the then US president, is disclosed in a Downing Street memo leaked to the Daily Mail.

It was written by Mr Blair’s foreign policy chief Sir David Manning one day after Mr Blair’s summit with Mr Bush at the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002, a year before the conflict.

It was not until two years after the war that evidence emerged suggesting Mr Blair had ‘signed in blood’ at Crawford a deal to back Mr Bush’s plan to bomb Iraq.

But evidence of Mr Blair’s role in manipulating public opinion was clear much earlier, with his press chief Alastair Campbell clashing with the BBC when it accused the Government of ‘sexing up’ the case for war.

Bereaved military mothers have urged Boris Johnson to release all secret documents relating to Tony Blair¿s wars

Bereaved military mothers have urged Boris Johnson to release all secret documents relating to Tony Blair¿s wars

Bereaved military mothers have urged Boris Johnson to release all secret documents relating to Tony Blair’s wars

The fight was over the notorious ’45-minute dossier’, which was spun to newspapers as suggesting Saddam Hussein could hit British targets in Cyprus with weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order by the Iraqi dictator.

Sir David’s memo also shows that Mr Blair made the decision to back the war – almost an entire year before it began – after Mr Bush blithely told him he did not know who would replace Saddam and wasn’t bothered about that.

The official inquiry into the Iraq War ruled that failure to plan for the post-conflict phase was one of the biggest blunders by Mr Bush and Mr Blair.

The memo was leaked as the number of people who have signed a petition calling for Sir Tony’s knighthood to be rescinded passed one million.

Sir David is credited with playing a major role in brokering the Iraq War pact between Mr Blair and Mr Bush. He makes it clear his memo – sent to then foreign secretary Jack Straw’s principal private secretary Simon McDonald and copied to Mr Blair’s No 10 chief of staff Jonathan Powell – was top secret.

It was ‘exceptionally sensitive’ and Mr Blair had ordered that it be ‘very tightly held’ with ‘no further copies’ made.

Anti-war protesters are seen massed in Hyde Park during a demonstration against war with Iraq in London on February 15, 2003

Anti-war protesters are seen massed in Hyde Park during a demonstration against war with Iraq in London on February 15, 2003

Anti-war protesters are seen massed in Hyde Park during a demonstration against war with Iraq in London on February 15, 2003

Sir David, who attended the talks at Crawford with Mr Blair, Mr Bush and Mr Powell, says the prime minister told the president he could help with ‘the PR aspect’ of his secret plan to bomb Iraq.

In effect, Mr Blair – whose ‘New Labour’ was notorious for its use of PR ‘spinning’ under Mr Campbell – was offering to act as a global spin doctor for Mr Bush, seen by some as less sophisticated. He told the president PR was vital to persuade sceptical EU leaders and voters of the importance of letting UN inspectors search for Saddam’s supposed stockpile of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (WMDs).

The memo says: ‘Bush accepted we needed to manage the PR with great care. The PM said we had to be careful how we framed the UN inspectors’ ultimatum to Saddam. We needed an accompanying PR strategy to manage European public opinion. Bush agreed.

‘If, as the PM expected, Saddam failed to co-operate with UN inspectors, the Europeans would find it harder to resist the logic that we must take action to deal with an evil regime.’ The former prime minister also told Mr Bush: ‘We would still face the question of why we had decided to act now, what had changed?’

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

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

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

Mr Blair would say ignoring such risks could ‘force us to take more costly action later’.

In the weeks before the war Mr Blair visited all major EU nations in a bid to persuade them to back the war. But his PR campaign failed and ended in acrimony when he accused France of sabotaging his attempt to obtain UN support.

The memo also reveals Mr Bush had scant regard for what might happen after the war.

He issued a rallying cry to Mr Blair: ‘Whatever plan emerged we had to ensure victory. We could not afford to fail.’

But Sir David notes warily that Mr Bush had produced ‘a number of imponderables’.

He wrote: ‘He didn’t know who would take Saddam’s place if and when we toppled him.

‘But he didn’t much care. He was working on the assumption that anyone would be an improvement.’

Hopes that the fall of Saddam would bring peace in Iraq have not been borne out. It was plunged into bloody strife that continues to this day.

Mr Blair and Mr Bush’s hope that they would find WMDs in Iraq was dashed when Saddam allowed UN inspectors in – and they found nothing.

They decided to go ahead with the war after Downing Street produced the later discredited ‘dodgy dossier’ that claimed Saddam had WMDs.

Sir David hints that as early as the Crawford summit, Mr Blair had doubts about relying on the UN inspectors. He told Sir David ‘privately’ that Mr Bush realised it was ‘possible Saddam would allow the inspectors in’.

Mr Blair said if that occurred they would ‘have to adjust our approach accordingly’.

He also told Mr Bush to ‘ramp up’ pressure on Saddam and if he blocked UN inspectors the US and UK had the right to ‘go in and deal with him’.

Source: Daily Mail UK

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