Tories accuse 'three planes' Blair, Brown and Cook over EU trip

The Government was accused of a "gross waste" of taxpayers' money last night after Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Robin Cook flew to the European Summit in three separate RAF aircraft. The Tories said the Prime Minister and his two most senior colleagues had wasted more than £7,000 by using the planes to fly to Lisbon.

Mr Blair arrived in a BAe 146 aircraft of the Queen's Flight on Wednesday night. The Foreign Secretary flew three hours earlier in an RAF VC10 and the Chancellor flew yesterday in an HS125 executive jet. Downing Street stressed that the Prime Minister had flown out early to meet Bertie Ahern, his Irish counterpart, for pre-summit talks. Mr Cook had flown early to attend a Party of European Socialists' meeting, while Mr Brown stayed only one day, saving on overnight stay costs, a spokesman said. It appeared last night that the three would make separate return trips too.

Andrew Lansley, the shadow Cabinet Office Minister, said he was "staggered". "It's a gross waste," he said. A Tory official added: "It is an open secret at Westminster that the Prime Minister, Chancellor and Foreign Secretary cannot stand the sight of each other, but it is taking things a bit too far. Why should the taxpayer be expected to pick up the tab for the petty jealousies and vanities that divide the Cabinet?"

Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's spokesman, complained to the BBC last night that the 6 o'clock news had not covered the Lisbon summit but chose to focus on the likelihood of Mr Blair taking paternity leave.

In a letter to Tony Hall, the Chief Executive of BBC News, he said: "If anyone needed further evidence of the dumbing down of TV news, they should look no further than your 6 o'clock bulletin earlier this evening." A BBC spokesman responded: "The dumbing down charge is nonsense. The BBC journalists in Lisbon will of course deal with the real issues at the summit when they arise over the next few days."

Mr Blair also faced embarrassment over a photocall that placed him next to the Austrian premier, Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, who has been ostracised by the the EU for forming a government with Jörg Haider's Freedom Party.

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