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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 11 December, 2002, 16:20 GMT
Blair rejects Cherie inquiry calls
Tony Blair has been accused of "half truths and evasions" over his wife's dealings with convicted fraudster Peter Foster in a stormy Commons clash with the Tory leader.

The prime minister rejected more demands for an inquiry into the affair hours after speaking of his pride over the way Cherie Blair had apologised for her actions.


It is typical of you that you dive into the swimming pool just as the water is running out

Tony Blair
Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said the government had lost public trust over the saga, and that Mr Blair's press office had "lost its integrity".

The clash came after Mrs Blair's unprecedented apology for the embarrassment she caused by buying flats with the help of Mr Foster.

Earlier on Wednesday, the prime minister described the furore over his wife's links with the conman as a "horrible time" for his family, but said all the important questions had been answered.

Three Tory concerns
Did any politicians try to influence immigration officials?
Was it right to use a blind trust to purchase property?
Exactly what part did Downing Street press officers play in the row?
In the Commons, Mr Duncan Smith accused Mr Blair of complacency and argued only an independent inquiry into the government's role could restore faith in Number 10's integrity.

He said there were still unanswered questions over Mrs Blair's involvement with Mr Foster.

The Tories want to know if moves to deport Mr Foster were speeded up because Downing Street officials became involved.

They question why the Blairs used a blind trust - where investments are made on ministers' behalf but without their knowledge, to prevent accusations of impropriety - to buy two flats in Bristol.

And they are still querying the part played by Downing Street press officers in the row.

Mr Duncan Smith said: "The only way to restore integrity to his government and to Number 10 is to hold an independent inquiry."

Peter Foster
Peter Foster's deportation case prompted concern
The prime minister instead insisted there was nothing to warrant an inquiry and said all questions had been "properly answered".

In a sign he believes the row is finally coming to a close, he told the Tory leader: "It is typical of you that you dive into the swimming pool just as the water is running out."

Asked about the attitudes of the editor of the Daily Mail - which Downing Street says has launched a character assassination on Mrs Blair - the prime minister suggested newspaper editors who had a "personal agenda" should tell their readers about it.

'Decency'

Downing Street later tried to clear up one area on which questions have been asked, denying that Mr Foster had paid a 4,000 bill over the purchase of the flats for Mrs Blair.

A spokesman said any bills would be paid for by Mrs Blair.

In a tearful, public statement on Tuesday Mrs Blair said she was "sorry", but insisted she had done nothing wrong, eliciting sympathy from many quarters.

On Wednesday morning, Mr Blair saluted his wife's "integrity and decency", saying: "Some of the things that have been written bear absolutely no resemblance to the person who is my wife".

"It has been a horrible time for Cherie and I am very proud of what she did yesterday," he said.

"It was very difficult for her to do that. It took a lot of courage to do that.

"All I hope is that the public understands when one of these situations happens, there are parts of the media - and it is only parts - who take these grains of truth and on top of that a whole mountain of distortion and half truth is built."


Everybody makes mistakes

Dr BS McIntosh, UK

Several newspapers were on Wednesday questioning why Mrs Blair publicly checked the name of the judge presiding over Mr Foster's deportation case - a detail which emerged only on Tuesday afternoon.

Mrs Blair gave no reason for doing so but denied acting "improperly" or trying to influence a judge.

With the Tories raising concerns about the deportation case, the Home Office published a blow-by-blow account of the process to remove Mr Foster from the UK in an attempt to prove the matter had been dealt with in an "entirely impartial and proper way".

Mrs Blair said in her emotional statement that she was "not superwoman" and sometimes dropped the many balls she was "juggling".

She said misunderstandings had originally arisen through her "mother's instinct" to protect her children from publicity.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"The Mail has become New Labour's public enemy number one"
Prime Minister Tony Blair
"It took a lot of courage to do that"
 VOTE RESULTS
Cherie speech: Were you convinced?

Yes
 38.56% 

No
 61.44% 

30800 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


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11 Dec 02 | Politics
10 Dec 02 | Politics
11 Dec 02 | Politics
11 Dec 02 | Politics

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