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Sunday, November 22, 1998 Published at 13:06 GMT

UK Politics

Row over Blair's flying beds

A VC10 like this one is about to be refurbished at a cost of 50,000

Accusations are flying thick and fast over the cost of the prime minister's in-flight sleeping arrangements.

Downing Street has confirmed that Tony Blair's RAF VC10 jet is soon to be fitted with luxury convertible beds costing up to 50,000.

[ image: In future Blair will travel in greater comfort than this]
In future Blair will travel in greater comfort than this
But a spokesman insisted that the refurbishment had been ordered in February 1997 by the former Conservative Prime Minister John Major.

The six airborne sofabeds will be fitted to the RAF VC10 sometimes used by the prime minister for trips abroad. They will cost the taxpayer around 8,500 each.

However, the Conservative minister in charge of purchasing for the Ministry of Defence at the time denied all knowledge of the beds.

James Arbuthnot MP, former Defence Procurement Minister, told the Mail on Sunday newspaper: "I have never heard of these beds before.

"I certainly never authorised their purchase and any such order would have been brought to my attention by officials because it would have been politically sensitive."

The Shadow Defence Secretary John Maples told the newspaper the cost of the beds was "absolutely ridiculous".

Blair Force One

The Mail on Sunday suggests the Tony Blair is equipping the VC10 in presidential style in a continued attempt to emulate the US president.

The paper says that the RAF jet has already been nicknamed "Blair Force One" after President Clinton's famous plane Air Force One.

While Mr Blair's plane is equipped with a satellite telephone and a stock of his own blood for emergencies, Mr Clinton's jet boasts a bedroom complete with wardrobes, a bathroom, conference room and library, according to the paper.

This summer the prime minister was criticised for using the VC10 instead of a scheduled airline to fly to Italy and France for a family holiday.

He said the flight was justified because he met Italian and French leaders during the trip.

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