Britain's Blair Says He Is Resigning
Thursday, May 10, 2007; 4:34 PM
TRIMDON, England -- Tony Blair said Thursday he would step down as prime minister on June 27, closing a decade of power in which he fostered peace in Northern Ireland and followed the United States to a war in Iraq that cost him much of his popularity.
In a somber farewell, Blair made way for Treasury chief Gordon Brown to take the top post. The British leader looked overcome with emotion, struggling to retain his trademark broad grin as loud cheers rang out.
"Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right," Blair told party workers and supporters at Trimdon Labour Club in his Sedgefield constituency in northern England. "I may have been wrong, but that's your call. But believe one thing if nothing else. I did what I thought was right for our country."
Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, it was right, Blair said, to "stand shoulder to shoulder with our oldest ally, and I did so out of belief."
Brown, Blair's dour partner in reforming the Labour Party and a sometimes impatient rival in government, was expected to easily win election as the party's new leader and become the next prime minister. Brown has never criticized Blair's decision to go to war in Iraq and has given no indication on how he will steer Britain's role in the conflict.
Blair, 54, has stopped just short of openly endorsing Brown, a stern Scot who lacks his charisma and common touch.
The two men stuck together during the 2005 election campaign, at one point famously facing the cameras and eating ice cream. The camaraderie sometimes seemed forced, though they rarely disagreed in public on the issues.
On one occasion as he sat beside Blair during that campaign, Brown was asked whether he would have done the same as the prime minister over Iraq. There was a long pause before Brown said: "Yes."
The government has declared its hopes of withdrawing from front-line operations this year _ a move certain to please a public anxious to see an end to the conflict.
In London, Laura Phillips, 21, a banker, reflected the anti-war mood.
"I'll fight for him if he gets our troops out of Iraq," she said.
Blair embraced dozens of local Labour activists as he arrived to greet around 250 supporters packed into the former mining village's Labour clubhouse. Some chanted "four more years," but were chided by the leader as he began his speech.