Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 10 October 2015

'Straight guy' Tony Blair did help Formula One beat tobacco ban

Published 13/10/2008

Tony Blair
Tony Blair

Tony Blair personally intervened to secure Formula One's exemption from a ban on tobacco advertising a few hours after meeting the sport's boss, and major Labour donor, Bernie Ecclestone, it has emerged.

The Government has always maintained that the meeting had no influence on the decision, and Mr Blair appeared on the BBC's On The Record programme insisting he was "a pretty straight kind of guy".

The Labour Party later gave back a £1m donation from Mr Ecclestone, received before the decision on tobacco advertising had been made.

The revelation of Mr Blair's role in the affair, which was New Labour's first incidence of sleaze, came in official briefing notes obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The papers show that a few hours after meeting Mr Ecclestone on 16 October 1997, he instructed his then chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, to signal his support for a derogation.

The next day, Downing Street wrote to the then Public Health minister, Tessa Jowell, asking her ministers to look for a permanent derogation for sport, "in particular F1".

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