After months of coy hints and fevered speculation, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced Thursday that he would leave office on June 27 after a decade in power in which he sacrificed his popularity to the war in Iraq and struggled at home to improve schools, policing and hospitals.
With stirring oratory cast as a personal testament, he declared: “I ask you to accept one thing. Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right. I may have been wrong. That’s your call. But believe one thing: I did what I thought was right for our country.”
The announcement, in Blair’s home district of Sedgefield in northeastern England, was part of a closely choreographed and protracted farewell that is not quite over yet. Between now and his final departure, Blair plans to attend major European Union and international summits in June.
The prime minister’s aides have sought to detail Blair’s agenda between now and his resignation to counter taunts from the opposition Conservatives that he is leading a lame duck administration. According to British media reports, he has also scheduled trips to France, Africa and the United States and will seek to press laws through parliament before handing over to a successor — almost certainly Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer.
“Today I announce my decision to stand down from the leadership of the Labor Party. The party will now select a new leader. On the 27th of June I will tender my resignation from the post of prime minister to the Queen,” he said.
“I have been prime minister of this country for just over 10 years. In this job, in the world today, I think that is long enough for me, but more especially for the country.
“Sometimes the only way you conquer the pull of power is to set it down,” he said.
Blair stood before 250 cheering supporters in a local Labor Party club-house, his words relayed by banks of television satellite vans drawn up outside. His tone was personal and partly elegiac. His wife, Cherie Booth, the source of much controversy during his tenure, was in the audience as he spoke and he paid tribute to her. He did not, however, endorse Brown as his successor.
“It’s difficult in a way to know how to make this speech,” Blair said.