The Labour leader today defended the Queen’s award of a knighthood of the Order of the Garter to Mr Blair, describing him as “a very successful prime minister (who) made a huge difference to the lives of millions of people in this country”.
But answering questions following a speech in Birmingham, he rejected the suggestion that Mr Johnson too should become a member of the country’s most senior chivalric order when he leaves office.
“I don’t think this prime minister has earned the right to have an honour,” said Starmer.
“I do think Tony Blair has.” Last week’s announcement of the gong for Blair sparked a petition which has gained 500,000 signatures calling for the offer to be withdrawn due to his involvement in taking the UK to war in Iraq in 2003.
But appearing on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Sir Keir dismissed the idea that the award was a “thorny issue”.
“I don’t think it’s thorny at all,” said the Labour leader. “I think he deserves the honour.
“Obviously I respect the fact that people have different views and I understand there are strong view son the Iraq War – there were at the time and there still are.
“But that doesn’t 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 rank of knight companion of the Order of the Garter is held by no more than 24 people at a time, selected personally by the Queen without consulting the prime minister, to recognise public service and service to the sovereign.
It is traditional for the sovereign to offer the honour to prime ministers following their departure from 10 Downing Street, though the award sometimes comes several years after they leave office. Harold Macmillan declined the honour and it was not offered to Alec Douglas-Home as he was already a knight of the Order of the Thistle, but all of the other prime ministers of the Queen’s reign up to Sir Tony have joined the Garter.
Asked if Mr Johnson backed Sir Tony’s knighthood, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said it was “a matter for Her Majesty for the Queen”, adding: “I would point out that every prime minister before Tony Blair has received similar honours.”