The news comes after 600,000 people signed a petition demanding Tony Blair, who has been accused by some of war crimes, be stripped of his new title. Downing Street has denied that the Prime Minister had “any input” on the decision to elevate the former PM to the Order of the Garter – one of the highest honours that can be bestowed. But the spokesman appeared to endorse the move by pointing out every other ex-premier before Sir Tony had been offered the Order of the Garter or the Scottish equivalent Order of the Thistle.
The announcement in the New Year honours has caused a storm, with experts saying the 14-year delay between his leaving office and getting the distinction showed the monarch was aware of how much backlash there would be.
In contrast, John Major received the same honour less than eight years after departing Downing Street.
Ministers suggested that the move unblocks the route for Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May to join the exclusive Garter club.
There is also speculation that the Queen might have wanted to spare Prince Charles from making the controversial choice.
A Change.org petition, set up three days ago, aims to strip Sir Tony of the title, accusing him of causing “irreparable damage to both the constitution of the United Kingdom and to the very fabric of the nation’s society.”
Adding to the statement by the group, actor and presenter Angus Scott argued: “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.”
He added: “Tony Blair is the least deserving person of any public honour, particularly anything awarded by Her Majesty the Queen.”
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Unlike the New Year’s Honours list, which is drawn up by the government for the Queen’s approval, the Order of the Garter is bestowed as a personal gift by the Queen.
The Honours Forfeiture Committee cannot recommend the removal of knighthoods handed out in this way.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, a former director of public prosecutions who received his own knighthood for services to law and criminal justice in 2014, said: “I don’t think [Boris Johnson] has earned the right to a have an honour.”
He added: “I do think Tony Blair has.”
Conservative minister Maggie Throup told LBC radio: “Tony Blair did lots of good things and it’s only right that we do honour our previous prime ministers.”
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While anti-war activists blame the former premier for war crimes during the US-led invasion of Iraq and persistently call for his criminal trial by an international tribunal, British environmentalist George Aylett has said it is a joke to put a war criminal on the New Year’s Honors list.
Moreover, former MP George Galloway branded Blair a mass murderer, liar and charlatan who is now “taking the biscuit.”
London-based GB News anchor Tonia Buxton has also expressed her disgust to see the knighthood of a man that has caused the murder of so many people.
The newly appointed knight however welcomed the celebratory title by saying, “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.”
Of the other four living former prime ministers, only Sir John Major has received a knighthood-level honour, with Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May as yet missing out.
In 2009, US President George W Bush presented Sir Tony with the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest US civilian honour – for “efforts to promote democracy, human rights and peace abroad”.
But the 2016 Chilcot report into the UK’s involvement in the Iraq war found Sir Tony’s government had chosen to join the US-led invasion before all peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted.
It also said planning and preparations for the country after the deposing of Saddam Hussein had been “wholly inadequate”.