The Labour leader said that it was not a “thorny” issue and insisted that Sir Tony should keep his knighthood as he defended his inclusion on the New Year’s honours list.
“I don’t think it’s thorny at all – I think he deserves the honour,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain. “Obviously I respect the fact that people have different views.”
Sir Keir said: “He won three elections, he was a very successful prime minister. I haven’t got time to list this morning all his many achievements, which I think vastly improved our country.”
The Labour leader added: “Whether it’s minimum wage, Sure Start centres for young families … The one I would pick out is the work he has done in Northern Ireland and the peace process, and the huge change that has made.”
Questioned about the strength of feeling about the Blair government’s invasion of Iraq, Sir Keir said: “I understand there are strong views on the Iraq war, there were back at the time and there still are.”
He added: “But that does not detract from the fact that Tony Blair was a very successful prime minister of this country and made a huge difference to the lives of millions of people in this country.”
The Change.org petition – set up three days ago after the former Labour PM was appointed a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter – had received more than 537,000 signatures by Tuesday morning.
A statement on the petition said: “Tony Blair caused irreparable damage to both the constitution of the United Kingdom and to the very fabric of the nation’s society. He was personally responsible for causing the death of countless innocent, civilian lives and servicemen in various conflicts.”
Asked about Sir Tony’s knighthood on Tuesday, Tory minister Maggie Throup said the former Labour prime minister “did lots of good things – and I think it’s only right that we do honour our previous prime ministers”.
Ms Throup said the decision “opens doors” for others, suggesting Gordon Brown and David Cameron could be knighted and Theresa May could be given a damehood.
Meanwhile, Sir Keir said the government should try to keep schools open in January through more vaccinations, more ventilation and mass testing. “If there is an outbreak … let’s not go back to, ‘The bubble goes home’ or, ‘The class goes home’,” he said.
“We’ve seen far too much disruption. I would say have testing – mass testing, so that if there is a child who test positive, those other children who have been in contact with that child get tested … if they’re not positive they stay at school.”
Asked on GMB if he had the “killer instinct” to become prime minister, the Labour leader said he wanted to “celebrate” the country and said it was his ambition to make sure “you and your family get the security, prosperity and respect that they deserve”.
The Labour leader is due to give a speech in Birmingham on Tuesday, where he will attempt to set out his vision for a future Labour government.
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