Tony Blair plans to resign

Prime Minister Tony Blair has told ministers that he plans to leave office in the summer of 2007, according to news reports Sunday.

Blair has said he plans to serve a full third term, but this week reassured lawmakers from his governing Labour Party that he would step aside in time for his successor to settle into office before the next general election, expected in 2009.

The Independent on Sunday newspaper said a Cabinet minister, asked whether Blair had said he would go next summer, responded: "I'm not going to tell you exactly what Tony said but I wouldn't disagree with that."

The newspaper quoted another unidentified minister as saying that "almost half the Cabinet" has now been given private assurances about a departure date by Blair.

Blair's office refused to comment on the reports on Sunday, and Blair is refusing to confirm the arrangement in public because he fears the main opposition Conservative Party will start a countdown, the newspaper said.

The prime minister's battle to shift the spotlight away from his political intentions intensified after his Labour Party placed third in local elections earlier this month.

The Mail on Sunday said senior government sources reported that Blair told Treasury chief Gordon Brown, his likely successor, in February that he would resign in July 2007, reports Washington Post.

I.L.