Sun, Jan 01, 2006 - Page 6 News List

New threats on horizon for the UK, Blair says

NEW YEAR MESSAGE While the UK is in a `strong position,' decisions critical to its future lay ahead on both the domestic and international front, he said


British Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday that new threats were coming Britain's way and big decisions on its future had to be made, but people should be thankful to live in such a "great country."

In his New Year message nearly six months after London was hit by apparent Islamist suicide bombers, Blair vowed he would not "let our resolve slip" in the fight against terrorism.

Britain faces challenges that will affect the country's prosperity and security for the next half-century, Blair warned.

He also said there would be no let-up in efforts to bring peace and democracy to Afghanistan.

Blair has pledged that this year will be one of his last years in office, but he faces potential revolts from his own center-left Labour Party MPs on several key issues which he hopes will form his legacy -- rather than his decision to lead Britain into the war in Iraq.

On the day he became Britain's 10th-longest serving prime minister at eight years, 245 days in power, Blair said Britain would begin the New Year "in a strong position."

"Britain in 2006 will continue to be one of the most successful countries in the world with a strong economy and good public services," he said.

"In an age of rapid change, new challenges and threats will emerge constantly but we should always be grateful for what a great country Britain is," he added.

He said that domestic reform would be matched by the necessary international agenda "as we continue to fight terrorism and bring hope and democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq.

"We will not let our resolve slip to tackle the dangers we face, both at home, as so tragically illustrated on July 7, and abroad."

From controversial reforms on health and education to Britain's lingering military presence in Iraq, Blair has his work cut out convincing not just the country at large, but his own party in particular.

The once-unassailable Blair could face a humiliating defeat early this year on proposed education reforms aimed at giving more power to schools.

Enough Labour MPs to scupper the scheme have vowed not to back Blair's reforms.

Blair said Britain could feel proud of its progress in the world last year, but tough domestic choices lay in store over.

"2006 is a year in which critical decisions have to be got right if we are to sustain prosperity and fast-improving public services for the long term," he said.

"On schools, local health services, pensions, welfare, the Respect agenda and energy, we face big choices which will decide how prepared we are for the challenges of the future," he said.

"Meanwhile, in welfare, pensions and energy, we have to get right the decisions that will affect the prosperity and security of the people of Britain for the next 50 years," he added.

"None will be easy, all will have to balance what is best for the future of the country with what is affordable now. But in each case, the decisions taken will affect the future for generations to come," he said.

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