In a carefully choreographed handover of power in London, Tony Blair has tendered his resignation as British Prime Minister to the Queen at Buckinghame Palace.
Gordon Brown, who was crowned leader of the British Labour Party earlier this week, then went to the Palace to be anointed as his successor.
The end of Blair’s troubled reign at Downing Street has been marked with glowing plaudits from his domestic and international allies. However, his demise became inevitable following an outcry over his handling of the Iraq war and more private concerns over his increasingly sense of his own infallibility.
Gordon Brown, widely seen as a successful Chancellor of the Exchequer, had long insisted that Blair allow a smooth transfer power to avoid a Thatcherite heave.
Gordon Brown swept into Downing Street as Prime Minister this afternnon and promised the country: “This will be a new Government with new priorities.”
Speaking with his wife Sarah beside him Mr Brown told reporters: “I have just accepted the invitation of Her Majesty the Queen to form a Government.
“This will be a new Government with new priorities and I have been privileged to have been granted the great opportunity to serve my country.”
Mr Brown promised that, as British Prime Minister, he would “continue to listen and learn from the British people”, who had told him they wanted change. But he has previously said he would defend and argue for the preservation of the United Kingdom as a “union of nations”.
“I am convinced that there is no weakness in Britain today that cannot be overcome by the strength of the British people.”
Mr Brown concluded by recalling the motto of his old school, Kirkcaldy High: “I will try my utmost”.
“This is my promise to all of the people of Britain and now let the work of change begin. Thank you.”
BLAIR BECOMES “PEACE ENVOY”
Meanwhile, Blair is to become a new international envoy to the Middle East, and he has also been linked to a high-profile post at the European Union. It is understood he has accepted the job of Middle East envoy for the US, Russia, the UN and the EU, meaning he will also stand down as a member of the London parliament.
Respect leader George Galloway was scathing of Blair’s “legacy” and new appointment, accusing Blair of “drowning the Middle East in a sea of blood”.
Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness said it was only right that his party acknowledge the “very positive contribution” he has made to the peace process and to the “building of new relationships” in Ireland and between Ireland and Britain.
“There is no doubt that Tony Blair devoted more time and energy on finding a peaceful way forward than any other British Prime Minister,” he said.
“But as Irish republicans, while we should acknowledge the positive contribution he made to the Irish Peace Process, our job is to create the conditions in which the British sovereignty over any part of Ireland is removed and the relationship between the two islands is between two sovereign nations.
“However this is all part of a process and we will continue to work constructively with the Gordon Brown to make further progress on the peace dividend, the truth around collusion and Irish reunification.
“On other areas of foreign policy such as Afghanistan and Iraq on which we profoundly disagreed with him I don’t believe he will be judged so favorably.
In a glowing tribute to the outgoing Prime Minister’s role in the Irish peace process, Mr Ahern wished him well in his efforts to strike a lasting settlement between Israel and Palestine.
The Fianna Fail leader said the peacemaking role would be tricky but insisted Mr Blair was confident of making progress.
Mr Ahern added he was now entering a “getting to know you” period with Gordon Brown.
“It’s going to be a different position, but by night time Gordon Brown will be Prime Minister. It will be a whole different relationship, I don’t know him that well but here we go again,” he said.
GORDON BROWN - A BIO
Gordon Brown was born in February 1951, the second son of Rev Dr John Ebenezer Brown, a Church of Scotland minister.
The family lived in Glasgow until Gordon was three, when they moved to Kirckaldy, a small industrial town on the northern shore of the Firth of Forth and the area he represents in Parliament today.
Gordon was the shyest of the Brown boys, his mother said Mr Brown has often said his parents were the “inspiration” for his career in politics and the source of his “moral compass”.
His political affiliations were never in doubt. By the age of 12 he was pushing Labour Party leaflets through letterboxes in Kirkcaldy.
Brown was placed on the academic fast-track, something he later resented.
At Edinburgh University, Brown became heavily involved in student politics. At the age of 23, he was lecturing in politics at Glasgow College of Technology and well on his way to becoming a major figure in the Scottish Labour Party.
He fought Edinburgh South for Labour at the 1979 general election, narrowly losing out to future Conservative minister Michael Ancram.
Then, after a spell as a television journalist and producer, he won the safe Labour seat of Dunfermline East, at the 1983 general election, at the age of 32.
A few weeks after entering the Commons, Brown began sharing an office and befriended another newcomer, Tony Blair, a 30-year-old London barrister.
It was a grim time for Labour, which had just slumped to its lowest share of the vote in 60 years and was haemorrhaging support to the newly-formed Social Democratic Party.
Brown and Blair shared a sense of frustration at Labour’s direction and blamed left-wingers for internal disputes within the party.
The pair’s middle-class respectability was spotted by Labour traditionalist Neil Kinnock who brought them into his shadow cabinet. But after the Labour party ousted Kinnock in favour of the more business-friendly John Smith, the cuckoos quickly took over the nest.
When Smith suffered a heart attack in 1994, the pair found themselves in a battle for the party leadership.
In exchange for giving him a clear run at the leadership, Mr Blair promised he would make Brown the most powerful chancellor in history, with unprecedented control over domestic policy. It is also believed Brown was promised that Blair would ultimately succeed him -- and so it has transpired.