Buddies Joseph and Tony reunite following election endorsement

Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, met Joseph and Michelle Muscat following a day of sightseeing in Valletta and Mdina

Tony Blair and his wife Cherie strolled around Valletta before heading to Mdina
Tony Blair and his wife Cherie strolled around Valletta before heading to Mdina

Former British prime minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie, were in Malta for a private visit over the weekend, touring Valletta and meeting Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

Accompanied by a bevy of security guys in black suits, Blair strolled casually down Republic Street, tan jacket held casually over his shoulder, as he chatted with his wife and acknowledged waves of bemused Valletta-goers along the way.

The couple stopped to tour St John’s Co-Cathedral, before continuing on their stroll around the capital.

In brief comments to the media, Blair said he had last visited Malta during the Commonwealth Heads Government meeting in 2005 but had no chance to actually take in anything because of the many meetings.

“I wanted to come here to see Malta again and to meet the Prime Minister,” he told the state broadcaster. “It was not too difficult to come here since we were in Italy.”

The couple – and entourage – were later spotted in Mdina, walking atop the bastions and attending the 6pm Mass at the Mdina Cathedral.

Not much was released about Blair’s visit or the couple’s meeting with Joseph and Michelle Muscat.

The prime minister did tweet a photo of the four of them with the text: “It was a pleasure hosting Tony and Cherie Blair and sharing so many insights with them –JM.”

That tweet elicited a mixed response by Muscat’s followers, somewhat equally divided between those praising the Maltese prime minister for attracting the might and powerful to tiny Malta and those berating and slagging him for befriending a “war criminal” and a “freeloader”.

The common theme in the messages posted by detractors was, as in the case of one Twitter user, to question why Muscat would host a man “partially responsible for the deaths of 400k+ innocent civilians”.

The Blairs leaving St John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta
The Blairs leaving St John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta

“He should be in jail not Malta,” the tweet read, echoing another popular theme, with another user commenting about the Blair’s suntan apparent in the picture with the Muscats, wrote: “Nice photo. Like the tans. Can’t get one in prison.”

The criticism refers to a 2016 report by Sir John Chilcot on the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which mauled the ex-prime minister’s reputation and said that at the time of the invasion, Saddam Hussein “posed no imminent threat”.

On Blair’s choice to sign up to a military plan drawn up in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 by the US president, George W Bush, Chilcot said: “We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.”

Other comments on Twitter and Facebook wondered if Blair’s visit was a way for Muscat to thank the former British prime minister for his endorsement in the run-up to the last election.

In his endorsement of Muscat, aired during a Labour mass meeting at the Granaries, Blair hailed the Maltese Prime Minister as “a great example of what progressive politicians could do in power”.

He listed Malta’s economic success and the record low levels of unemployment.

“A lot was done for women’s rights and for the LGBTI community,” he said, adding that he was “delighted” to see Malta holding the EU presidency.

“I know elections are always tough and sometimes they don’t always focus on the issues that matter, but they’re a moment of great decision. And so, as Malta approaches [election day], I congratulate him and wish him luck.”

The Labour Party had denied that Tony Blair was paid for that endorsement, although he is publicly acknowledged to be one of the most highly-paid public speakers in the world, allegedly grossing up to £330,000 for a 20-minute speech.

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