The Italian Almanac

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Tony Blair

Italian News - May 29

Tony Blair was facing fresh controversy over his holidays after he jetted off to Italy for another luxury 'freebie' break - courtesy of Prince Girolamo Strozzi. Mr Blair, his wife Cherie and their children are staying for free in the Prince's 16th Century Tuscan palace. But Downing Street has also tacked on an 'official' meeting with new Italian Premier Romano Prodi.

The Prime Minister has also arranged an audience with the new Pope, Benedict XVI, at the Vatican. This time last year, the Prime Minister - whose fondness for free holidays at other people's homes has earned him the nickname in the Italian media of 'Lo Scroccone' ('The Scrounger') - flew to and from a similar Italian vacation on a Royal Air Force jet from the Queen's Flight.

At the time, No10 justified the huge expense because the visit included a brief summit with Romano Prodi's predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi. This is the Blairs' fifth visit to the magnificent villa owned by Prince Strozzi, a law professor at Florence University who belongs to one of Northern Italy's oldest noble families. In return, official figures show that Prince Strozzi has twice been a weekend dinner guest at Mr Blair's publicly subsidised country residence.