Tony Blair asked Matt Hancock for guidance on Covid-19 restrictions before seemingly ignoring quarantine rules by failing to self-isolate after a trip to the US, The Telegraph can disclose.
It is understood that Mr Blair contacted the Health Secretary directly before flying to Washington DC for an event at the White House. Ten days after his return to London, the former prime minister was photographed leaving a private members club in Mayfair. Under quarantine regulations, Mr Blair should have remained in isolation for two weeks unless he qualified for an exemption.
The Telegraph is not aware of any other exemption that might apply.
The claim - first disclosed in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph - risks embroiling Mr Hancock who was consulted before Mr Blair’s flight to the US on September 14. It is suggested that Mr Blair was aware of the quarantine rules but had sought special dispensation by obtaining an official exemption letter needed to circumvent them. Sources confirmed Mr Hancock had spoken to Mr Blair but advised the 67-year-old to apply to the Foreign Office for the necessary exemption.
But it was unclear why Mr Blair contacted Mr Hancock directly nor why he carried on with the trip if he had concerns he was unable to fulfil the fortnight quarantine. Mr Blair travelled to Washington on a £50 million private jet - a Falcon 7X - to attend a ceremony at the White House at which Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed history-making agreements establishing formal relations.
An ‘intentional conferences’ exemption to avoid the two-week UK quarantine applies to diplomats and other formal representatives of bodies such as the UN but Mr Blair does not meet that criteria and remains a private citizen, having quit his role as a Middle East envoy in 2015. He was photographed with other guests on the South Lawn of the White House, holding a face mask in his hand before returning to the UK on September 16. On September 26, he was photographed again, this time leaving Harry’s Bar in Mayfair, in central London.
Mr Blair's spokesman denied he had breached the rules. The spokesman said: "He was not refused exemption by the UK Government.
"He was told to follow the guidance on international conferences, which he did; the US Government had cleared the visit because it was for the diplomatic conference at the White House. Mr Blair was tested for Covid before departing the UK, on arrival at the White House, when he returned to the UK and has been tested several times since. All tests have been negative."
The spokesman declined to comment further when asked about any conversations with Mr Hancock.
A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) spokesman said: "The FCDO provides travel exemptions to diplomats travelling on business relating to the interests of the UK, representatives of international organisations, and their families and dependants.
"Those issued an exemption will not need to self-isolate."
On social media there was widespread condemnation of Mr Blair while David Jones, a Conservative MP and member of the public administration committee, said Mr Blair had seemingly flouted the rules “in a flagrant manner”.
Mr Blair has urged the Government to introduce mass testing at airports in response to the pandemic. Anybody caught breaching self-isolation rules risks a £1,000 fine and possible prosecution.