Sir Tony Blair has refused to call for Boris Johnson to resign over partygate, saying he could “understand how these things happen”.
The former Labour prime minister declined to join his successor Sir Keir Starmer in calling for Johnson to step down over parties at Downing Street during lockdown.
It comes after Starmer dramatically upped his criticism of Johnson today, accusing him of breaking the law over the scandal.
But Blair told Times Radio he would leave questions of Johnson’s resignation to those in frontline politics today.
He said: “I don’t get into questions of resignation or not. I’ll leave that to the people in the frontline of politics today.
“If I’m absolutely blunt about it, what I care most about is not the presence of the parties but the absence of a plan for the country.
“I understand the people feeling enraged and very angry about it. I can also, from the perspective of Downing Street, understand how these things happen. You can explain it but not really excuse it.
“I’ve been prime minister for 10 years and I know how difficult it is. I don’t really want to get into the business of whether people should resign or not resign and so on.
“The people in Downing Street would have been working under the most enormous pressure, enormous difficulty. I understand how it happened.
“But as I say, the trouble is, you can give an explanation but you can’t really excuse it.
“People were obeying restrictions, often with massive personal cost and anguish and grief, and it just shouldn’t be allowed to happen, frankly. But I guess he knows that.”
Allegations include staff wheeling in a drinks fridge, filling up suitcases with alcohol, a “Bring Your Own Booze” event in the garden, scheduled “wine time Fridays” and two parties on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral. The parties and allegations are under investigation by senior civil servant Sue Gray.
Blair made the comments in his first interview since he was made a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter - the oldest and most senior British order of chivalry - in the new year honours list.
Asked if he would like to be referred to as “Sir Tony”, the former Labour leader told presenter Tom Newton Dunn: “I’m perfectly happy with Tony as a matter of fact, that is what feels most natural to me.”
The honour came under fierce criticism from Blair’s opponents as well as families of those who died in the Iraq war.
“Of course there would be people who object to it strongly. That’s to be expected,” Blair added.
He said some people would focus on Iraq and “ignore” all the other things his government did, adding: “You don’t occupy a position of leadership and take decisions without arousing a lot of opposition and so it didn’t surprise me.
“The best thing is just to accept that of course there will be people who strongly oppose it and detest me for various reasons and this is just what happens to politics.”