Exclusive: Blair and Brown brought together by Pope

Former PMs will meet Pontiff and each other at Westminster Hall + But Blair "not muscling in" says s

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown will meet the Pope as they are brought face to face for the first time since the general election when Benedict XVI addresses the great and the good at Westminster Hall next Friday.

The former prime ministers both played a role in encouraging the Papal visit and a source who knows both men said today that "it is one of the few things they agree on".

Speculation that Blair may accompany the Pope on elements of the UK tour has led to whisperings that Blair is trying to "muscle in" on the visit. But a senior Whitehall source today emphatically denied that. "There has not been any of that at all. This trip would not be happening if it were not for Blair -- or his successor," said the source, who also revealed that Blair had not put in a request for a private meeting with the Pope but is expected, along with Brown, to talk to him immediately after the speech. Other former prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major are expected to attend the event and -- like Blair and Brown -- sit in the front row.

Both Blair and Brown have visited the Pope at the Vatican. Brown briefly had tears in his eyes when he presented the Pope with a book of his Church of Scotland father's sermons.

One event Blair may attend as an inter-faith one at St Mary's University teacher training college in Twickenham on 17 September, turned down by Prince Charles, who is said to have refused to attend after being denied a one to one meeting with the Pope.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Show Hide image

What did Jeremy Corbyn really say about Bin Laden?

He's been critiqued for calling Bin Laden's death a "tragedy". But what did Jeremy Corbyn really say?

Jeremy Corbyn is under fire for describing Bin Laden’s death as a “tragedy” in the Sun, but what did the Labour leadership frontrunner really say?

In remarks made to Press TV, the state-backed Iranian broadcaster, the Islington North MP said:

“This was an assassination attempt, and is yet another tragedy, upon a tragedy, upon a tragedy. The World Trade Center was a tragedy, the attack on Afghanistan was a tragedy, the war in Iraq was a tragedy. Tens of thousands of people have died.”

He also added that it was his preference that Osama Bin Laden be put on trial, a view shared by, among other people, Barack Obama and Boris Johnson.

Although Andy Burnham, one of Corbyn’s rivals for the leadership, will later today claim that “there is everything to play for” in the contest, with “tens of thousands still to vote”, the row is unlikely to harm Corbyn’s chances of becoming Labour leader. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.