Michael Martin, Commons speaker

Commons speaker: Blair F1 scandal ‘deeply concerning’

Commons speaker: Blair F1 scandal ‘deeply concerning’

Commons speaker Michael Martin has said he is “deeply concerned” about allegations surrounding Tony Blair’s actions during the Bernie Ecclestone affair.

The controversy first arose during the first year of Mr Blair’s tenure as prime minister.

Back in 1997, the former prime minister denied being influenced by a meeting with Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone, a key Labour donor, prior to the decision to exempt the sport from a tobacco advertising ban.

Mr Martin’s statement is a clear sign that renewed allegations around the scandal are becoming increasingly serious.

In the worst case scenario, Mr Blair could be summoned to the bar of the House to explain himself.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show Mr Blair urged health ministers to exempt Formula One from a ban on advertising soon after his meeting with Mr Ecclestone.

Briefing notes prepared by staff working for then public health minister Tessa Jowell and chief of staff Jonathan Powell indicate that action had been taken to insure an exemption hours after the meeting and that an official letter had been sent from the prime minister to Ms Jowell the next day.

The day after meeting, Ms Jowell was sent a note saying: “The prime minister would like your ministers to look for ways of finding a permanent derogation for sport in particular, F1.”

Ms Jowell replied setting out alternatives to the exemption but was sent another letter five days later saying: “His view (the prime minister’s) view remains that we should seek to negotiate a permanent exemption for Formula One, backed up by a voluntary agreement with the FIA,” according to the Sunday Telegraph.

A letter was then sent by Ms Jowell to the European Union seeking a total exemption from Formula One.