The UFO Files, the advice was requested by Number 10 in 1998 as the government introduced the Freedom of Information Act, allowing members of the public to seek details about "alien lifeforms". After receiving a letter from a member of the public referring to a "cover-up" and urging him to consider making "all of the many and varied UFO reports and associated data" available, Mr Blair asked the Ministry of Defence for their policy.
In a lengthy reply, staff told him the ministry "has only a limited interest in UFO matters" but that they "remain open minded" about the existence of "extraterrestrial lifeforms". They added any release of information would require "substantial resources" they would be "reluctant to sanction".
Mr Blair eventually wrote back to his correspondent, author and "UFO expert" Nicholas Redfern, telling him information could be requested under the Freedom of Information Act, but was subject to clauses including personal privacy and confidentiality. He added sternly: "There is no Government sponsored research into the UFO phenomena and there are no plans to initiate such work".
The information has now finally been disclosed after Britain's "UFO files" were released today by the National Archives. More than 6,700 pages of classified correspondence can be read by members of the public for the first time, including government briefings, letters from "UFOlogists" and details of numerous "alien sightings". They include an advertisement for the "strangest job in Whitehall"; the role of a "UFO desk officer" entrusted with investigations, handling FOI requests and preparing briefings.
The position, described as a "relatively junior role", was outlined by an outgoing officer who wrote a summary of "daily mechanics" for his successor. Many of the investigations involved "searching the internet", he admitted.
Also included in the files is a 1995 briefing by a "UFO intelligence officer" who states a potential alien visit might be for "military reconnaissance", "scientific" reasons or for "tourism". A 1979 Portugal Euro Jersey briefing prepared before a House of Lords debate into UFOs also wondered why aliens would want to visit "an insignificant planet (the Earth) of an uninteresting star (the sun)".
The UFO Files
Dr David Clarke, who lobbied the Ministry of Defence with a succession of FOI requests in order to get the information released, said: "It was Tony Blair's government which brought in FOI requests and it opened a floodgate for people to ask about UFO files. "At that point in 1998, they were probably being inundated with requests. The Ministry of Defence realised it was something that wasn't going to go away and gave him a briefing. "Now, we now have a fascinating insight into some of the extraordinary reports and briefings which passed over the UFO Desk on a daily basis and how its officers used logic and science in their attempts to explain 'the unexplained'.
"What it actually tells us is that far from running around the country doing investigations, they didn't really have any special equipment or knowledge, or the resources to pursue it." Among the other politicians mentioned in the files are John Major, who answered a Parliamentary question about setting up an official inquiry into UFO sightings in 1996 by saying they had "no plans". In 1996, Michael Redmond MP wrote to Michael Heseltine, then Defence Minister, asking why the RAF had failed to launch aircraft to intercept a UFO spotted in Lincolnshire.
In his memoirs, Tony Blair described the Freedom of Information Act as one of his greatest mistakes while in office, calling it "utterly undermining of sensible government".