Blair ac­cused of break­ing quar­an­tine rules with US trip

For­mer prime min­is­ter pic­tured at May­fair restau­rant 10 days af­ter White House visit, hav­ing ‘not been given ex­emp­tion’

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front Page - By Ed­ward Mal­nick SUN­DAY PO­LIT­I­CAL EDITOR

TONY BLAIR was last night ac­cused of a “fla­grant” breach of Covid-19 re­stric­tions, af­ter fail­ing to self-iso­late for a fort­night fol­low­ing a two-day trip to the US on a pri­vate jet.

In pic­tures ob­tained by this news­pa­per, the for­mer prime min­is­ter is seen leav­ing a restau­rant in May­fair 10 days af­ter his re­turn from Washington DC last month.

The Sun­day Tele­graph un­der­stands that Mr Blair ap­pealed to White­hall of­fi­cials for spe­cial dis­pen­sa­tion from the Covid-19 rules, but that he was not is­sued with the for­mal ex­emp­tion let­ter he would have needed to avoid the 14-day iso­la­tion pe­riod.

The Tele­graph is not aware of any other ex­emp­tion for which Mr Blair could qual­ify. He claims he was ad­vised to fol­low rules on at­tend­ing “in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences”, hav­ing trav­elled to the US for a cer­e­mony at the White House at which Is­rael signed agree­ments estab­lish­ing for­mal re­la­tions with Bahrain and the UAE.

But the “in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences” ex­emp­tion to the rules ap­plies to diplo­mats, staff at in­ter­na­tional bod­ies such as the UN and for­mal rep­re­sen­ta­tives at in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences who have been “granted priv­i­leges and im­mu­ni­ties”.

Mr Blair is con­sid­ered a pri­vate cit­i­zen, hav­ing stepped down from his post-No10 role as Mid­dle East en­voy in 2015.

Those tak­ing ad­van­tage of the ex­emp­tion re­quire “an ex­emp­tion let­ter to show at the bor­der”.

A spokesman for the for­mer prime min­is­ter said he was in­vited by the US gov­ern­ment be­cause of the role he played in the agree­ment be­tween Is­rael and the UAE – de­scrib­ing the cer­e­mony as a “diplo­matic con­fer­ence”. The spokesman also in­sisted Mr Blair “posed no risk to any­one” as he was tested be­fore his de­par­ture, on ar­rival at the White House, and again sev­eral times since re­turn­ing to the UK. Mr Blair has been a vo­cal ad­vo­cate of an air­port test­ing regime to cut quar­an­tine times. The spokesman added: “We be­lieve he fol­lowed all UK and US gov­ern­ment guide­lines as ad­vised.”

David Jones, a Con­ser­va­tive mem­ber of Par­lia­ment’s pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion com­mit­tee, said it was “hard to see” how Mr Blair could rely on claim­ing he had been tested “when we haven’t got a test­ing regime”.

“It sets an ap­palling ex­am­ple to trav­ellers if a for­mer prime min­is­ter ap­pears to flout the rules in such a fla­grant man­ner,” he said.

Mr Blair, 67, flew to Washington DC on Sept 14. He was pic­tured with other guests on the South Lawn of the White House, hold­ing a face mask in his hand as he posed for pic­tures with US po­lit­i­cal fig­ures in­clud­ing Frank Luntz, the vet­eran poll­ster, and Kevin McCarthy, the Repub­li­can leader in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Mr Luntz said: “Tony Blair was a rock­star at this event. Peo­ple were lin­ing up for pho­tos with him.”

He then re­turned to the UK on Sept 16. Ten days later on Sept 26 he was seen leav­ing Harry’s Bar in May­fair, which boasts of be­ing “one of the most el­e­gant and so­phis­ti­cated pri­vate mem­bers’ clubs in Lon­don”.

Mr Blair is be­lieved to have trav­elled on a Fal­con 7X jet, ac­com­pa­nied by a team of Scot­land Yard pro­tec­tion of­fi­cers, whose salaries and ex­penses are funded by the Bri­tish tax­payer. The go­ing rate to hire a Fal­con 7X is about £7,000 per hour. He had re­cently re­turned to the UK from Italy.

In June, Mr Blair gave an in­ter­view in which he said UK coro­n­avirus rules, in­clud­ing those around quar­an­tin­ing, were “not very clear”.

He told CNBC: “The main thing is to have the rules clear, and some of them, frankly, like the ones of quar­an­tin­ing when peo­ple come into the coun­try now, are re­ally not very clear.”

Last month, Mr Blair urged the Gov­ern­ment to bring in mass coro­n­avirus test­ing at air­ports and cut quar­an­tine times to five days as an “al­ter­na­tive” to the blan­ket 14-day quar­an­tine, say­ing it would have “sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits both to in­di­vid­u­als and the econ­omy”.

In July he also warned there was a “50/50 chance” the virus would surge again this win­ter, say­ing: “My anx­i­ety about the Gov­ern­ment at the mo­ment is that it has still not re­ally put in place that in­fra­struc­ture of con­tain­ment that is go­ing to see us through a resur­gence of the disease if un­for­tu­nately that

hap­pens.” Rules in­tro­duced in June re­quire any­one ar­riv­ing in the UK to iso­late for 14 days, un­less they are com­ing from coun­tries on the of­fi­cial “travel cor­ri­dors” list, which has never in­cluded the US.

Of­fi­cial guid­ance states: “Self-iso­lat­ing will re­duce the chance of a sec­ond wave of coro­n­avirus in the UK.”

It adds: “It can take up to 14 days for you to de­velop coro­n­avirus symp­toms af­ter you catch the virus and in this time you can un­know­ingly pass it on to oth­ers, even if you don’t have symp­toms.”

Those fail­ing to fol­low the rules on self-iso­la­tion could be li­able for a £1,000 fine, or po­ten­tial pros­e­cu­tion.

Mr Blair’s spokesman said: “He was not re­fused ex­emp­tion by the UK Gov­ern­ment.

“He was told to fol­low the guid­ance on in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences, which he did; the US Gov­ern­ment had cleared the visit be­cause it was for the diplo­matic con­fer­ence at the White House. Mr Blair was tested for Covid be­fore de­part­ing the UK, on ar­rival at the White House, when he re­turned to the UK and has been tested sev­eral times since. All tests have been neg­a­tive.”

A For­eign Of­fice spokesman said:

‘Mr Blair was tested be­fore de­part­ing, on ar­rival at the White House, [and] when he re­turned to the UK’

“The FCDO pro­vides travel ex­emp­tions to diplo­mats trav­el­ling on busi­ness re­lat­ing to the in­ter­ests of the UK, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions, and their fam­i­lies and de­pen­dants.

“Those is­sued an ex­emp­tion will not need to self-iso­late.”

As of last month, po­lice forces have only is­sued 38 fines from over 4,000 re­fer­rals from pub­lic health au­thor­i­ties.

Tony Blair, the for­mer prime min­is­ter, leav­ing Harry’s Bar in Lon­don’s May­fair on Sept 26, 10 days af­ter he re­turned from the US

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