Thursday May 03, 2007
Tony Blair will walk away from British politics this summer and pocket £10 million in his first year out of office.
The sale of his memoirs, lucrative directorships and the vast sums available on the American lecture circuit will turn the Prime Minister into a multi-millionaire overnight.
He will leave behind him a bankrupt Labour Party - and an uphill battle for Gordon Brown to restore its tarnished fortunes.
Mr Blair, who as polls close is facing sweeping losses in the local and devolved elections, intends to bring his political career to a close by leaving the Commons at the end of July, weeks after he stands down as Premier.
His departure halfway through a Parliament would make him the first former PM since the war to abandon the Commons and trigger a by-election.
This could turn into an early test of Gordon Brown's popularity as Prime Minister, and would also open Mr Blair to charges that he is treating the voters in his Sedgefield constituency with contempt by quitting before his full term expires.
Sources claim that Mr Blair and his wife Cherie are eager to cash in on his decade as a world statesman, and do not want to have to make their earnings public.
A scheme planned in close consultation with his wife would see Mr Blair escape the vigilance of Parliamentary watchdogs by resigning as an MP.
This would relieve him of the obligation to record details of his earnings in the Register of Members' Interests.
Mr Blair has been criticised in the past for failing to record details of his free holidays and other perks in the Register.
Experts predict that Mr Blair will easily make more money than Bill Clinton or John Major on the back of book deals - his memoirs could fetch £8 million - speaking tours, property investments and fees from high-profile companies that he has ruthlessly courted.
Mrs Blair is also expected to pocket around £2.5 million a year from speeches.
As a former Prime Minister, Mr Blair will get an immediate pension worth £117,500 a year. The Blairs will also enjoy a £90,000 a year taxpayer-funded 'public service' allowance to help them cope with life after Number 10.
The tax-free allowance can be claimed every year until Mr Blair dies.
He is also entitled to free telephone calls, stationery, an official car and driver and Special Branch protection worth around £1.5 million a year.
Sources say Mr Blair will stand down as an MP just before the House rises for the summer recess, with July 23 earmarked as the preferred date.
On Thursday Downing Street fuelled speculation about Mr Blair's future by refusing to deny that he will quit as an MP before the General Election, expected in 2009.
His spokesman said Mr Blair had not yet made a decision about his political future after he leaves office, probably on July 2.
"He has made no decision whatsoever to stand down as an MP and very firmly remains MP for Sedgefield and proud of it," he said.
It is believed that the announcement about his resignation as an MP was being held back as a surprise following the widespread speculation about his drawn-out departure.
Mrs Blair is reported to have told friends: "Now is the time for us to go and make some money. There is no way he is ever going to serve under Gordon Brown, even as a backbencher."
As details of Mr Blair's escape plan seeped out, there was surprise among some Labour MPs that he was 'deserting' the party.
There was even speculation that some of his die-hard allies, including Alan Milburn, Stephen Byers and John Reid, are planning to leave the Commons at the same time.
A Labour source said: "They have no future under Gordon Brown, so they reckon they could quit together and trigger a byelection 'Super-Thursday' to annoy him."
Mr Blair will tell his party at his Sedgefield constituency next Thursday that he is resigning as Labour leader, triggering a process to confirm Mr Brown as plan his successor. The outcome is due to be announced on June 30.
Rumours that Mr Blair might quit as an MP have been denied until now, but Labour officials are now openly preparing for a by-election.
Would-be MPs are already jockeying for a plum seat that Mr Blair has held for 24 years. He was re-elected in 2005 with a majority of more than 18,000.
The Prime Minister is widely expected to embark on a lucrative lecture tour of the US when he leaves Downing Street.
Wes Neff, the boss of a prominent New York speakers' agency, said: "Tony Blair has a future bigger than Bill Clinton as a speaker. The big names at the moment are Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, and Colin Powell but all these have been in the market place for three or four years.
"He'll be the first world leader to come on the market in all that time. People will be interested to hear what he has to say. If he keeps his ideas interesting and has thoughtful opinions he can do this for decades."