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Tuesday, 10 December, 2002, 13:30 GMT
Can Blair end "Cheriegate"?
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tony Blair may not be able to avoid press questions

The latest statement from Tony Blair's official spokesman on the row surrounding the prime minister's wife is clearly an attempt to close down the entire embarrassing and corrosive affair.

He repeated the insistence that Mrs Blair has done nothing illegal or improper and that the media questioning was an invasion of privacy.

The prime minister is obviously becoming seriously concerned that the campaign of character assassination, as he sees it, is starting to harm both him and the government.

Peter Foster
Foster faces deportation
But the last thing he wants to do is be forced to make a personal statement on the issue.

He has seen his spokesmen persistently wrong footed by intensive press questioning, usually because they have not been kept fully in the picture by Mrs Blair.

The fear will be that by making a personal appearance the prime minister might only make matters worse.

Press conference

Instead, it is hoped the words from his official spokesman will answer those demanding he makes a statement.

But, thanks to a coincidence of timing, the prime minister may not be able to avoid it.

He is attending the European summit in Copenhagen at the end of this week.

And, as always, there will be an end-of-summit press conference at which the prime minister will sit alongside the current EU president to take questions from the media.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin
Letwin wants inquiry
That is now likely to turn into another embarrassing occasion when - as has happened before - questioning is dominated by the prime minister's troubles at home.

Despite the attempts to close down the affair, there are still several unanswered questions over Cherie Blair's behaviour.

Troubled past

Specifically, Downing Street has still not cleared up the question of exactly when Mrs Blair knew that the man helping her buy two flats in Bristol had a criminal record.

The idea that Downing Street did not know of his past or that the prime minister's wife was not informed of his record - beyond being told he had a "troubled past" - leaves many scratching their heads in disbelief.

And the latest twist has seen a revelation that Mrs Blair phoned Peter Foster's solicitor to ask about the progress of deportation proceedings against him.

That has left the Tories asking if ministers or officials intervened in the case - possibly in an attempt to have him removed from the country and out of harms way as soon as possible.

Tony Blair may want to put the lid on the affair, but there is no sign of this row going away just yet.

And, as each day passes, it looks more likely that the prime minister will be forced to speak publicly on it.


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10 Dec 02 | Politics
09 Dec 02 | Politics
06 Dec 02 | Politics
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