Column One: Blair is proved a Eurosceptic over baby initiative

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The Independent Online
FIRST THE BABY was said to be made in Italy, then it was reported to be French. Tony Blair set the record straight yesterday by revealing his wife's pregnancy "probably" began in Britain. But that just sparked another theory from tabloid heaven: that the happy event took place during their weekend with the Queen at Balmoral.

Never mind that yesterday the Prime Minister was at a high-powered seminar debating the future of mankind. All weekend the deliberations have been overshadowed by one speck of humanity or, to be precise, the circumstances of its conception.

The latest intelligence was gleaned in an interview by the BBC and three European journalists, which opened with a question that reduced the Prime Minister to a blush. "Is it", they asked - referring to the date of conception and the timing of the Blair family holiday - "Italian, French or British?"

It was "probably British, in fact," came the reply.

While Downing Street declined to comment on the "Balmoral baby" theory, it seemed happy to clear up some confusion caused by its statement on Friday that "the Tuscan connection is wrong". Journalists jumped to the wrong conclusion, the Prime Minister's office said. The event took place "after they returned".

If all this has strayed towards the tasteless, the Blairs appear to have been genuinely touched by the reaction to an event which proves some things are beyond the control even of national leaders.

At the formal dinner for a "third way" seminar at Villa La Pietra on Saturday night, the politicians couldn't stop talking about that baby. The speech of Romano Prodi, the European Commission president, included a reference to population control which, he said, had to be tackled despite the best efforts of Tony and Cherie.

Several leaders, including Chancellor Gerhard Schroder of Germany, cracked jokes along the lines of: "We've heard about a politician kissing babies on the campaign trail, but making one is a little extreme".

In their suite at the Excelsior Hotel, the Clintons offered their congratulations and, according to Mr Blair's spokesman, Hillary added that she will be in London shortly after the birth and will be "happy to help out". Quite what she intended was left in the air.

Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's spokesman, did say, however, that the Blairs "were very touched by the warm response of their colleagues and members of the public" and that the Prime Minister "was very sorry to have to disappoint those Italians who were excited by the thought that it was a Tuscan baby".

Mr Blair himself conceded that "there are going to be a lot of changes in our lives" and reminded the world that the event is not anxiety-free. "We are a little apprehensive," he said. "Cherie is 45 and pregnancy can be difficult at that age."

But, deluged with bouquets, Downing Street has already run out of vases. This story will not go away. Indeed, some things can only get bigger. To have any chance at the next election, William Hague needs to father twins - and quickly.