Tony Blair has proclaimed that God will judge whether he was right to send British troops to Iraq, echoing statements from his ally George Bush.
Contradicting warnings from advisers not to mix politics and religion, the Prime Minister said that his interest in politics sprang from his Christianity and its "values and philosophy" had guided him in public life.
Explaining how he managed to live with the decision to go to war in Iraq, Mr Blair replied: "If you have faith about these things then you realise that judgement is made by other people. If you believe in God,it's made by God as well." His remarks, made in an interview to be shown on ITV's Parkinson show tonight, invite comparison with President Bush, a born-again Christian, who has made a virtue of bringing religion into politics. But they also carry the risk of inflaming opinion in the Arab world, where the term "crusader" is commonly used to condemn Christian leaders who meddle in the Middle East.
It is also exactly the sort of comment he has been repeatedly urged not to make for domestic purposes, because of the risk that a sceptical British public will react badly to politicians who appear to be "preaching". Mr Blair was instructed by his former director of communications, Alastair Campbell: "We don't do God."
As well as invoking God as the final judge of the Iraq war, Mr Blair also explained how his religious and political beliefs came to him simultaneously. "There were people at university who got me into politics. I kind of got into religion, politics, at the same time, in a way. And until the age of about 20 I really wasn't very interested in politics at all," he told Michael Parkinson. "That's how I got interested in it."
He refused to accept a description of himself as a "Christian socialist" - but only because the phrase contained the "s" word. "It's a long time since anyone used the word socialist about me," he said.
He agreed that his politics could be described as Christian "in terms of the values and the philosophy". He also confirmed that religion illuminates his politics. "If you have a religious belief, it does - but it's probably best not to take it too far," he said.
Roger Bacon, who has been trying unsuccessfully to meet Tony Blair since his son, Major Matthew Bacon, 34, was killed in Iraq, said last night: "This would explain why he won't see the parents. How can he speak to us when God told him to send the troops out to Iraq so our sons could be killed?"
And Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon was killed in Basra in 2004, said she was "quite disgusted" at the comments made by the Prime Minister. The Military Families Against the War campaigner said: "How can he say he is a Christian? A Christian would never put people out there to be killed.
"A good Christian wouldn't be for this war. I'm actually quite disgusted by the comments. It's a joke."
During his eight-year premiership, the only decisions that have caused Mr Blair sleepless nights have been those that involved taking the UK to war, he said. But he added: "The only way you can take a decision like that is to try to do the right thing, according to your conscience. And, for the rest of it, you leave it to the judgement that history will make."
Mr Blair refused to say whether he had prayed for guidance on whether to send British troops into Iraq - which has cost the lives of 103 British troops, 2,300 US soldiers, and up to 30,000 Iraqis, with many thousands maimed or injured, in a conflict which has claimed more lives since the fall of Baghdad than the war itself.
There have been persistent reports that Mr Blair joined the President in prayer for God's guidance at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, in 2002, at the summit at which many people believe a secret decision was reached to invade Iraq.
The claim was made in a book by the Christian author Stephen Mansfield, who said he had heard it from White House officials. It was later backed up by a writer on Time magazine, David Aikman.
Mr Bush once told Palestinian leaders: "God would tell me, 'George, go end the tyranny in Iraq' and I did."
Mr Blair's Cabinet includes several deeply committed Christians, such as Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, who is a Roman Catholic, and the Chief Whip, Hilary Armstrong - but they rarely break the injunction not to mix religion and politics publicly.Reuse content