Former prime minister Tony Blair has been made a knight of Britain’s most senior order of chivalry, in an honour bestowed directly by the Queen.
Sir Tony said his appointment as a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter some 14 years after leaving office was “an immense honour”.
But it is certain to prove controversial among those who blame the former PM for the UK’s involvement in war in Iraq in 2003.
Founded in 1348 by Edward III, membership of the Garter is awarded personally by the Sovereign to honour those who have held public office, who have contributed in a particular way to national life or who have served the sovereign personally.
The knighthood has regularly been bestowed upon former prime ministers, with all of Sir Tony’s nine predecessors receiving the honour apart from Harold Macmillan, who declined the title, and Alec Douglas-Home, who was already a member the Order of the Thistle before entering Downing Street.
Membership is limited to the sovereign, the Prince of Wales and no more than 24 living Companions. Current members include former MP Sir John Major, businessman Lord Sainsbury, former head of the civil service Lord Butler, ex-MI5 chief Baroness Manningham-Buller and former chiefs of defence staff Lord Inge, Lord Boyce and Lord Stirrup.
Former Labour leader Blair, who held the keys to No 10 between 1997 and 2007, said: “It is an immense honour to be appointed Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, and I am deeply grateful to Her Majesty the Queen.
“It was a great privilege to serve as prime minister and I would like to thank all those who served alongside me, in politics, public service and all parts of our society, for their dedication and commitment to our country.”
Sir Tony became Labour leader following the death of John Smith in 1994 and led the party to a landslide victory in 1997.
He won two subsequent general elections in 2001 and 2005 before quitting Westminster in 2007, paving the way for his chancellor Gordon Brown to take over as prime minister.
The 68-year-old famously hailed Diana, Princess of Wales, the “people’s princess” after her death in 1997 and was the UK leader during allied military invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks on the US.
After leaving office, the former barrister became a Middle East envoy and set up the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change to promote his “Third Way” brand of centrist politics.
Appointments to the Garter are in the Queen’s gift and made without prime ministerial advice.
They are for life unless a Knight or Lady Companion offends against certain “points of reproach”.
Sir Tony is one of three new appointments announced by Buckingham Palace.
Founded in 1348 by Edward III, the Garter is awarded by the sovereign for outstanding public service and achievement.
It is said to have been inspired by events at a ball in northern France, attended by the king and Joan, Countess of Salisbury.
The countess is believed to have dropped her garter, causing laughter and some embarrassment.
The chivalrous king, however, picked it up and wore it on his own leg, uttering the phrase “Honi soit qui mal y pense” – “Shame on him who thinks evil of it” – now the Order’s motto.
The Order’s emblem is a blue ribbon or garter worn by men below the left knee and by women on the left arm.
Each year, Royal Knights and Ladies of the Order of the Garter gather at St George’s Chapel in Windsor for a colourful procession and ceremony.
Watched by crowds of onlookers, they walk down the hill to the chapel from the State Apartments, dressed in blue velvet mantles, red velvet hoods, black velvet hats and white ostrich plumes.