LONDON – Tony Blair ended his decade as Britain’s engaging but increasingly beleaguered prime minister Wednesday in an emotional farewell to the House of Commons that ended with the installation of Gordon Brown as the new head of government.
“I wish everyone, friend or foe, well. And that is that – the end,” Blair said as members of Parliament rose in a rare eruption of applause. Several lawmakers wiped back tears and even David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader known for his bruising and rollicking debates with Blair, called his backbenchers to their feet as the 54-year-old premier walked from the chamber.
“We’re very glad to see him go, because he’s the most dangerous opponent that we’ve had in a couple of hundred years,” former Conservative leader William Hague told the BBC afterward. “There was a tear in his eye that was not part of the act. He was very sad to go, I think.”
In the typical pomp and circumstance that accompany the transition of power in Britain, Blair traveled in his Jaguar as part of a motorcade to Buckingham Palace, where he submitted his resignation to Queen Elizabeth II. Brown made his way to the sovereign a short time later and became the 11th prime minister to accept her request to form a new government.
“I’ve heard the need for change. Change in our (National Health Service), change in our schools, change with affordable housing, change to build trust in government, change to protect and extend the British way of life,” Brown said as he prepared to enter the prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing St.
“And this change cannot be met by the old politics,” he added. “So I will reach out beyond narrow party lines. I will build a government that uses all the talents.”