One is an internationally renowned statesman; the other was a barman working at one of east London’s hippest restaurants. But it was the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who came out on top in an unusual clash on Friday. He managed to use his years of verbal dexterity – some would put it less politely – to talk himself out of what could have been a humiliating situation: a citizen’s arrest.
Mr Blair is followed to almost every public engagement by protesters who blame him for the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Iraq war and its aftermath.
The website arrestblair.org offers a bounty of about £2,150, or about a quarter of their total funds to anyone who can “arrest” him for crimes against peace. So when Twiggy Garcia saw his chance on Friday night, he leapt into action.
The former Labour leader was enjoying an intimate meal with family and friends at the Tramshed restaurant in trendy Shoreditch, where Mr Garcia was working. The venue, owned by the chef and Independent columnist Mark Hix, serves only two main courses – chicken and steak – and has artworks by Damien Hirst on the wall.
Mr Garcia told Vice: “He [Blair] was sitting at the head of a table upstairs with about eight other people eating dinner. I think he was out with his family and a few friends. I went over to him, put my hand on his shoulder and said: “Mr Blair, this is a citizen’s arrest for a crime against peace, namely your decision to launch an unprovoked war against Iraq. I am inviting you to accompany me to a police station to answer the charge’.”
Mr Blair responded with a typical “Teflon Tony” performance, trying to engage the barman in a civilised debate about Syria. Mr Garcia said the former premier “kept changing the subject and talking about Syria” and told him: “I think you should be more concerned about Syria.”
Mr Garcia said: “I didn’t expect him to start debating with me. I think he actually believed the lies that were coming out of his mouth.”
But the barman’s time was running out. “One of his sons got up and went to get the plain-clothes security from downstairs. I decided to get out of there sharpish... I quit my job there and then.”
Article continues beneath gallery
Tony Blair: A career of controversies
Tony Blair: A career of controversies
1/11 The Tony Blair 'selfie'.. A journalist takes a picture of Kennard Phillips 'Photo Op', depicting Prime Minister Tony Blair taking a 'selfie' in front of an explosion in Iraq, during a press viewing of the exhibition Catalyst: Contemporary Art and War
2/11 Protesters pictured outside the QEII Conference centre in London in 2011 as former British PM Tony Blair give his evidence in the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry
3/11 David Lawley-Wakelin, who disrupted Tony Blair’s testimony at the Leveson Inquiry by bursting into the court
4/11 Blair giving evidence
5/11 Tony Blair visiting troops in Iraq in 2007
6/11 Blair meeting with troops in Basra, Iraq in 2003
7/11 Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks to British soldiers at Divisional Headquaters in Basra, May 2007
8/11 British Prime Minister Tony Blair eats dinner with British troops in Basra, Iraq, 21 December, 2004
9/11 Syrian president Bashar El Assad during his official visit to the United Kingdom in 2002. Mr Blair tried to engage Mr Garcia in a conversation about Syria. The former Prime Minister made clear he was very much in favour of military intervention last summer.
10/11 Syrian president Bashar El Assad and wife Asma during their official visit to the United Kingdom in 2002. Mr Blair tried to engage Mr Garcia in a conversation about Syria
11/11 Former Prime Minister Tony Blair's signature adorns a program he signed for an Iraq veteran during a reception at the Guildhall in London following the service of commemoration at St Paul's Cathedral honouring UK military and civilian personnel who served in Iraq
Mr Garcia said he had fantasised for years about “arresting” Mr Blair, who is now a Middle East peace envoy. It was not a plan, he claimed, but “something I have wanted to do for a few years”.
“I had been waiting for the opportunity after seeing the website arrestblair.org and it just so happened we were in the same place at the same time,” he said. “I believe Blair is responsible for the mass murder of Iraqi civilians after taking our country into an illegal war.”
Mr Garcia added that his “heart rate increased” when he discovered Mr Blair’s “eerie presence” in the building and that he feared the politician’s security team might have overheard him asking a colleague: “Should I citizen’s arrest him?”
A spokesman for the former Prime Minister told The Independent: “There is nothing to report here apart from the fact that Mr Blair did offer to discuss the issue – that offer was declined and the individual walked off. Nothing else happened. Everyone is fine and they had a great time.”
Mr Garcia is the fifth person to have tried to arrest Mr Blair. He said: “It will keep people from forgetting he is a war criminal. I hope one day he faces his charges in The Hague. People seem to think those laws only apply to Nazis and African warlords.”