Previous PMs used royal jet for holidays, says aide

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Indy Politics

Downing Street yesterday dismissed claims that the Prime Minister's decision to use the royal flight to go on holiday had wasted public money.

Downing Street yesterday dismissed claims that the Prime Minister's decision to use the royal flight to go on holiday had wasted public money.

Mr Blair, his wife, Cherie, and their four children were accompanied by security staff and secretaries on the BAe Systems 146 aircraft. Number 10 said the party was swelled by staff who had to set up an office with secure telephone for the Prime Minister in Italy.

The Conservatives said that the flight would cost £40,000. One royal aide was quoted as saying it was "extraordinary" that the Prime Minister could fly around Europe in the plane while members of the Royal Family had to cut down on its use to save money. Iain Duncan Smith, the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, said Mr Blair's behaviour was "outrageous" and claimed that he viewed his wife and children as "the real Royal Family".

The Queen regularly flies on the BAe 146, but other royals, such as the Prince of Wales, have hired smaller commercial aircraft and helicopters.

A Sunday newspaper reported that the RAF flight would return next weekend to take the Blairs to Toulouse in the south of France, and would bring the family back to London after a further week. A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said Mr Blair had to use the flight for security. The family would pay the commercial equivalent for Mrs Blair and the couple's children, she said.

The two aircraft in the royal squadron - the HS125 and the BAe 146 - had been used to fly both Margaret Thatcher and John Major on holiday. "There is nothing different about the arrangements for this year than previous years," she said.

Last year it was reported that the Blairs' holiday would cost a total of £750,000. In 1998 newspapers reported Conservative complaints that the use of the royal jet would cost £25,000.

The family refused to pose for photographs yesterday at a family service at a private chapel next to the Tuscan villa where they are staying with Prince Girolamo Strozzi. They are expected to have a photocall tomorrow.

With the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, honeymooning in the US, reports suggested that the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, was ready to take charge should a crisis develop. But Number 10 said Mr Blair remained firmly in touch with issues in Britain.

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