'I reflect on what I said with a mixture of pride and embarrassment'

Tony Blair
Tony Blair

Tony Blair has said he reflects on one of his most famous and oft derided quotes, delivered ahead of the Good Friday peace deal, with a mix of pride and embarrassment.

When the then prime minister flew into Belfast on April 7 1998, as negotiations to end the region's conflict teetered on the verge of collapse, he delivered a spur-of-the-moment line that will forever be associated with the historic agreement which emerged three days later.

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"A day like today is not a day for soundbites, we can leave those at home, but I feel the hand of history upon our shoulder with respect to this, I really do," he told the waiting cameras outside Hillsborough Castle.

It was a satirist's dream.

Mr Blair, whose media-savvy new Labour government had been accused of putting spin ahead of substance, had served up a juicy soundbite in the very same sentence he had warned against them.

Twenty years on, he laughed when recalling the reaction to the impromptu line by two of his top advisers.

"I reflect on it with a mixture of pride because I think it's quite a good phrase and embarrassment, because, obviously, having just said 'Now is not the time for soundbites', I gave one," he told the Press Association.

"I remember going back in after it, which literally came to me on the spur of the moment, this is what's so weird about it, and Jonathan Powell and Alastair Campbell saying to me 'You do realise what you've just said?'

"So that was one of the more amusing parts of it, but then Northern Ireland always did strange things to me."