Blair revealed to be godfather to Murdoch's daughter

Wendi Deng reveals that Blair is godfather to her nine-year-old daughter Grace.

It looks like Tony Blair is even closer to Rupert Murdoch than anyone imagined. This morning it emerged that Blair is godfather to Murdoch's nine-year-old daughter, Grace, the second youngest of his six children. The secret was divulged by Wendi Deng in an interview in the October edition of Vogue. The magazine reports that Blair, who Deng described as one of Murdoch's "closest friends", was present at the christening on the banks of the River Jordan in 2010, at the spot where Jesus is traditionally believed to have undergone the same ceremony.

The revelation goes some way to explaining why, unlike Peter Mandelson for example, Blair has refused to distance himself from Murdoch since the phone hacking scandal went global. As I previously noted, when asked about the subject at a press conference in Australia, Blair went out of his way to avoid criticising Murdoch and even claimed that the News Corp boss had taken "responsibility" for the scandal. In fact, Murdoch told MPs during the select committee hearing: "I do not accept ultimate responsibility. I hold responsible the people that I trusted to run it and the people they trusted."

The news is a political gift to the Tories, who will use it to reinforce their claim that Labour was just as guilty as them of kowtowing to Murdoch. To his credit, Ed Miliband has never sought to deny as much and has deftly distanced himself from Blair and Gordon Brown, both of whom were obsessed with wooing Murdoch and his proxies.

Blair's office has so far refused to comment on the news but it will be hard for the former prime minister to avoid the subject. The appearance of former News of the World editor Colin Myler and Tom Crone, the paper's former chief lawyer, before the media select committee means that the Murdochs will be back at the top of the news agenda.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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As a Conservative MP, I want Parliament to get a proper debate on Brexit

The government should consider a Green Paper before Article 50. 

I am very pleased that the government has listened to the weight of opinion across the House of Commons – and the country – by agreeing to put its plan for Brexit before Parliament and the country for scrutiny before Article 50 is triggered. Such responsiveness will stand the government in good stead. A confrontation with Parliament, especially given the paeans to parliamentary sovereignty we heard from Leave campaigners during the referendum, would have done neither the Brexit process nor British democracy any good.

I support the government’s amendment to Labour’s motion, which commits the House to respecting the will of the British people expressed in the referendum campaign. I accept that result, and now I and other Conservatives who campaigned to Remain are focused on getting the best deal for Britain; a deal which respects the result of the referendum, while keeping Britain close to Europe and within the single market.

The government needs to bring a substantive plan before Parliament, which allows for a proper public and parliamentary debate. For this to happen, the plan provided must be detailed enough for MPs to have a view on its contents, and it must arrive in the House far enough in advance of Article 50 for us to have a proper debate. As five pro-European groups said yesterday, a Green Paper two months before Article 50 is invoked would be a sensible way of doing it. Or, in the words of David Davis just a few days before he was appointed to the Cabinet, a “pre-negotiation white paper” could be used to similar effect.

Clearly there are divisions, both between parties and between Leavers and Remainers, on what the Brexit deal should look like. But I, like other members of the Open Britain campaign and other pro-European Conservatives, have a number of priorities which I believe the government must prioritise in its negotiations.

On the economy, it is vital that the government strives to keep our country fully participating in the single market. Millions of jobs depend on the unfettered trade, free of both tariff and non-tariff barriers, we enjoy with the world’s biggest market. This is absolutely compatible with the result, as senior Leave campaigners such as Daniel Hannan assured voters before the referendum that Brexit would not threaten Britain’s place in the single market. The government must also undertake serious analysis on the consequences of leaving the customs union, and the worrying possibility that the UK could fall out of our participation in the EU’s Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with non-EU countries like South Korea.

If agreeing a new trading relationship with Europe in just two years appears unachievable, the government must look closely into the possibility of agreeing a transitional arrangement first. Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator, has said this would be possible and the Prime Minister was positive about this idea at the recent CBI Conference. A suitable transitional arrangement would prevent the biggest threat to British business – that of a "cliff edge" that would slap costly tariffs and customs checks on British exports the day after we leave.

Our future close relationship with the EU of course goes beyond economics. We need unprecedentedly close co-operation between the UK and the EU on security and intelligence sharing; openness to talented people from Europe and the world; and continued cooperation on issues like the environment. This must all go hand-in-hand with delivering reforms to immigration that will make the system fairer, many of which can be seen in European countries as diverse as the Netherlands and Switzerland.

This is what I and others will be arguing for in the House of Commons, from now until the day Britain leaves the European Union. A Brexit deal that delivers the result of the referendum while keeping our country prosperous, secure, open and tolerant. I congratulate the government on their decision to involve the House in their plan for Brexit - and look forward to seeing the details. 

Neil Carmichael is the Conservative MP for Stroud and supporter of the Open Britain campaign.