LOS ANGELES – Britain's Tony Blair will step down as Prime Minister in July 2007 after more than 10 years leading his country, a newspaper reported Wednesday after two ministers acknowledged he was likely to leave office next year.
Blair intends to resign as leader of the governing Labour party on May 31, 2007 — triggering a leadership election likely to take around eight weeks, Britain's The Sun tabloid reported.
He would then be replaced as Prime Minister on July 26, the newspaper said in its Wednesday edition.
George Pascoe-Watson, political editor of The Sun, told Britain's Sky News television he would not disclose the sources of his story, and said only that the newspaper's previous predictions on the date of elections had been "absolutely bang on the money."
The tabloid previously correctly called the dates of Britain's last national election, ahead of a formal announcement by Blair.
Blair was appointed Labour leader in July 1994 and took office on May 2, 1997.
In October 2004, he said he would not serve a fourth term as Prime Minister, later promising to hand over to a successor in sufficient time ahead of a likely 2009 national election.
However, Blair has been reluctant to set an explicit timeframe, claiming it would likely make him an instant lame duck, draining his authority and power.
Blair's Downing Street office said it would not comment on tabloid newspaper speculation about the timetable of his departure.
A purportedly leaked memo, details of which were reported Tuesday, revealed advisers had planned a national tour and a host of TV appearances to mark a triumphant end to Blair's years in office.
Britain's Daily Mirror tabloid said in its Tuesday edition it had been leaked a copy of the purported memo — but reported that it did not include any departure date.
"As TB (Tony Blair) enters his final phase, he needs to be focusing way beyond the finishing line, not looking at it," the newspaper quoted the memo as saying. "He needs to go with the crowds wanting more. He should be the star who won't even play that last encore. In moving towards the end, he must focus on the future."
It reportedly recommended appearances on the British Broadcasting Corp. children's TV program "Blue Peter" and the broadcaster's religious music showcase "Songs of Praise."
A tour of at least six cities would send a message that Blair's legacy was not the specific changes he made, "but the dominance of (his political) ideas ... the triumph of Blairism."
Neither the prime minister nor many of his senior staff have seen the memo, Blair's official spokesman said Tuesday. He would not comment on the accuracy of the Daily Mirror's excerpts.
Pressure from within Labour for Blair to publicly set a time frame for his departure has intensified recently. Critics worry that the uncertainty over when he will leave is damaging the party's electoral hopes, while Blair's waning popularity is giving the resurgent Conservative Party an opening.
Blair last week shrugged off demands that he announce his plans at the party's annual conference later this month.
However, Environment Secretary David Miliband and social exclusion minister Hilary Armstrong both said Tuesday that Blair would be replaced by next year, a move interpreted in some quarters as an attempt to placate party critics.
"The conventional wisdom is that the prime minister sees himself carrying on for about another 12 months, and it seems to me that conventional wisdom is reasonable," Miliband told BBC radio. He said he had not spoken to Blair about it directly.