Blair left office with 76 prime ministerial gifts

Tom Peck
Monday 18 October 2010 00:00 BST

That Tony Blair was unable to deduce without outside help that it was, in the end, time to go seems all the more remarkable – because the former prime minister seems to have a keen interest in watches.

No fewer than 12 expensive timepieces – nine of which were presented to him by the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi – are on a list of gifts that Mr Blair took with him when he left Downing Street for good. Others include a guitar signed by the U2 singer, Bono.

A lengthy Freedom of Information battle resulted in the publication of the list of 76 items he received when he was in charge of the country. Under the ministerial code, gifts become the property of the Government.

Ministers are permitted to keep anything worth less than £140. For items worth more than that, ministers are allowed to buy them at the market value, less £140.

The new list reveals that Mr Blair's raid on the No 10 gift cupboard was far more extensive than was previously thought. Until now he was known to have taken only 22 items, including a pair of watches from Mr Berlusconi. The new list details a further 54 gifts. Both the Cabinet Office and Mr Blair's office have refused to confirm how much he paid for the items.

However, some of the biggest bargains are likely to have been the three guitars that Mr Blair could not bear to part with – one signed and presented to him by Bono. In 2007, a similar instrument signed by the U2 frontman raised £90,000 at a charity auction in America. Another was a gift from the Canadian rock star Bryan Adams.

The cupboard has not been left completely bare. Gifts that did not make it into the removal van include a nativity scene from the late Yasser Arafat and an iPod from Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California.

It took a campaigner against Government waste, Lee Rotherham, 10 months to obtain the list and required two interventions by the Information Commissioner.

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