Arise, Sir Tony: former UK leader made Garter Knight by Queen Elizabeth

Reforming prime minister left office after a decade, having joined the US in interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq

LONDON 19th October 2017. Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in his office in London as he is interviewed by Mina al-Oraibi, Editor in Chief of The National and London Bureau Chief Damien McElroy.  Stephen Lock for the National

Tony Blair, the man who defined generational change for British voters in the late 1990s, was granted one of the country's highest honours by Queen Elizabeth II at the New Year.

The prime minister between 1997 and 2007 was made one of only 24 knights of Companion of the Garter, an order of chivalry that is in the gift of the monarch and outranks other orders. His predecessor, Sir John Major, is also a member of the order.

“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,” Mr Blair said.

“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.”

The order dates back almost 700 years. King Edward III was so inspired by tales of King Arthur and the chivalry of the Knights of the Round Table that he created his own group of honourable knights.

During the annual Garter Day procession, the queen and the knights assemble at Windsor Castle in grand velvet robes, glittering insignia and plumed hats. It is one of the most traditional ceremonies in the monarch's calendar.

Mr Blair did not follow the path of many prime ministers who entered the House of Lords when they stood down from office. Instead, he dedicated his time to the Middle East peace process, spending part of the year working in Jerusalem. He has lately devoted his efforts to the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

After 18 years of Conservative governments, Mr Blair won an unprecedented three general elections for the Labour Party. The modernising agenda of his government helped redefine the UK's place in the world as a beacon of globalisation.

The greatest single achievement of the government was the Northern Ireland peace process, which culminated in the Good Friday power-sharing agreement that brought the 30 years of Troubles to an end. As a willing partner in the US in the response to the September 11 attacks, Mr Blair became a leading voice in the struggle against extremist violence.

The war to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq proved pivotal to his premiership. The UK participated and helped lead the campaign, despite it causing some of the biggest demonstrations against a sitting government in history.

The postwar instability and bloodshed drained the prime minister, leading to his decision to quit No 10 Downing Street a decade after his general election victory.

Tony Blair speaks at the University of Ulster, Coleraine, arguing his case for the Yes vote in the peace referendum in 1998. PA

A veteran colleague of Mr Blair's, who served as an MP for 40 years, spoke of the “terrific privilege” of receiving an award in the New Year Honours list on Friday.

Frank Field, now a cross-bench peer, was also made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour, joining the likes of Sir Elton John, JK Rowling and Sir Paul McCartney.

The acknowledgement of Lord Field’s public and political service comes after a career in which the ex-minister showed support for causes including pensions reform and ending child poverty.

“Well, I’m very honoured to receive this acknowledgement. It’s a terrific privilege, considering the honour itself and what it represents," he said. “Following the work I’ve done, it’s a lovely thought from which to conclude this year.”

He highlighted “important” issues he had campaigned to help stamp out over the past 12 months, including modern slavery.

Serving as welfare reform minister in Mr Blair’s first government in 1997, he was given a remit to “think the unthinkable” and went on to chair the Work and Pensions Select Committee.

Lord Field remained in the post of welfare reform minister for a little over a year, following policy clashes with the prime minister and the chancellor at the time, Gordon Brown.

Updated: January 1st 2022, 12:03 AM