Blair's role in F1 tobacco ban revealed

Fresh details about the Ecclestone Affair - New Labour's first sleaze scandal - have been revealed in Whitehall documents.

Previously secret papers showed that Tony Blair personally intervened to secure Formula One's exemption from a tobacco advertising ban just hours after meeting the sport's boss, Bernie Ecclestone.



The Government has always maintained that the meeting did not influence the final decision over the exemption - even though Mr Ecclestone was a major party donor at the time.



The Prime Minister appeared on the BBC's On The Record programme to insist that he was a "pretty straight kind of guy" in a bid to draw a line under the controversy.



Claims that Mr Blair had "railroaded" the move past ministers were also strongly denied.



However, the briefing notes prepared by officials - and obtained by the Sunday Telegraph under freedom of information laws - raise questions about Mr Blair's account.



They reportedly show that Mr Blair instructed his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, to signal his support for a derogation just hours after meeting Mr Ecclestone on October 16, 1997.



The following day, Downing Street wrote to public health minister Tessa Jowell stating: "The Prime Minister would like your ministers to look for ways of finding a permanent derogation for sport, in particular F1."



On October 24, Ms Jowell wrote to Mr Blair setting out possible options which included the idea of an exemption, but also contained alternatives such as a longer phase-in period for the ban.



But five days later, she received a letter insisting: "His (the Prime Minister's) view remains that we should seek to negotiate a permanent exemption for Formula 1, backed up by a voluntary agreement with the FIA."



Following the PM's response, Ms Jowell wrote to the EU - where the tobacco advertising legislation was being drafted - seeking a total exemption for Formula One.



The documents also reveal concern among Whitehall officials that they were at risk of being "disingenuous" about the situation.



Tory MP John Maples had tabled a question in Parliament asking on what date Mr Blair had informed health secretary Frank Dobson of the decision to push for an exemption.



A reply was drafted which gave the date as October 29, but a briefing note warned: "The draft reply is strictly true in terms of the final decision which resulted in the letter to EU colleagues and is consistent with the Prime Minister's references on On The Record to the decision having been taken two or three weeks after the meeting (with) the FIA on 16 October.



"However, if the correspondence were in the public domain, critics could argue that the answer was disingenuous in that the Prime Minister's views had been clearly conveyed by the telephone call on 16 October and the letter on 17 October."



Before the question had been answered, Mr Blair told the Commons, on November 12, that the decision to exempt Formula One had been made on November 5.



When the answer to Mr Maples' question was finally given, it referred him to Mr Blair's statement.



A spokesman for Mr Blair said last night: "There is nothing new here. All these issues were debated at the time."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
Could Mrs Brown's Boys take the lead for second year running?
News
news
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
tvChristmas special reviewed
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all