Blair tipped for Middle East role

Speculation is rising that Tony Blair could quit as MP for Sedgefield if he is named as the new international envoy to the Middle East.

Speculation is rising that Tony Blair could quit as MP for Sedgefield if he is named as the new international envoy to the Middle East.

Westminster was put on alert that the outgoing Prime Minister could draw the curtain down on representing his County Durham seat - with an announcement possible today or tomorrow.

The developments came as Mr Blair is today due to step down as Prime Minster and head for a meeting of his constituency Labour Party.

Last night, Mr Blair's election agent John Burton said: "I think, if he gets the Middle East job, he will resign as an MP."

Labour MPs also told The Journal that they were expecting a by-election to take place despite previous suggestions that Mr Blair might have stayed on in Parliament until the next general election, which could be two years away.

But one North-East MP said: "Blair would never have been happy waiting around for the next two years doing backbench MP work, so it is no great surprise."

Another Labour MP said they were now expecting a by-election in Sedgefield.

North-East MPs paid tribute to Mr Blair, although they stressed people should wait for an official announcement.

Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods said: "If it is true, he has done an excellent job for that constituency and he will be a really hard act to follow. Obviously, I will do what I can to help the constituency to secure the seat."

Dari Taylor, MP for Stockton South, said Mr Blair had given people the life chances that they simply did not have in 1997 when Labour took power.

US officials in Washington said Mr Blair would be named today as special envoy for the international diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East after he finally stands down as Prime Minister.

His appointment was discussed by representatives of the Quartet - the US, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia - at talks yesterday in Jerusalem.

Earlier, Mr Blair signalled his enthusiasm for the job at his last No 10 news conference.

"I think that anybody who cares about greater peace and stability in the world knows that a lasting and enduring resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue is essential," he said.

"As I have said on many occasions, I would do whatever I could to help such a resolution come about."

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer