Standing ovation for Tony Blair at last PMQ

A protester holds a rainbow flag outside the Houses of Parliament in central London on June 3, 2013, as protesters gather in support of same-sex marriage

The Prime Minister gave a vintage performance during his last appearance at the dispatch box in the House of Commons.

Flanked by departing Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and incoming Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Mr Blair began by paying tribute to three soldiers who have died in action in the last week, and to the Armed Forces as a whole.

“I am truly sorry about the dangers they face today,” he told MPs.

“I believe they are fighting for the security of this country and the wider world. There is only one view to take of them – they are the bravest and the best.”

Good natured exchanges with opposition MPs characterised this final question time session, his 319th.

Watched from the gallery by his family, he batted away questions on the NHS and education and defended his record in government.

Tory leader David Cameron parried with Mr Blair over the floods of the last week and his new role as a Middle East envoy.

The Prime Minister called for kidnapped BBC journalist Alan Johnston to be released.

Mr Cameron paid tribute to Mr Blair:

“May I congratulate him on his remarkable achievement – for all of the heated battles across this dispatch box no one can be in any doubt about the efforts he has made … life in the public eye has sometimes been tough on his family and we wish him and his family well and wish him every success in what he does in the future.”

Lib Dem leader Sir Ming Campbell also had warm words for the Prime Minister:

“He has been unfailingly courteous to me and as he leaves office may I extend our very best wishes to him and his family.”

Mr Blair delighted MPs by slipping into Catherine Tate mode in response to a question from Lib Dem MP Richard Younger-Ross on the relationship between faith and politics.

“I think I am not bothered about that one,” he said, before sitting down to cheers and laughter from all sides.

The mutual appreciation continued as the First Minister of Northern Ireland Ian Paisley paid tribute to the Prime Minister’s efforts to secure peace in the province.

Mr Paisley said he hoped the same could be achieved in the Middle East, Mr Blair praised the honesty and courage of the DUP leader. He also revealed to MPs that he received his P45 form this week.

Father of the House Alan Williams, who has been an MP since 1966, wished the PM success and fulfilment and called him:

“One of the outstanding Prime Ministers in my political lifetime and the most politically effective the party has ever had.”

By this time the House was almost overcome with emotion and Mr Blair ended:

“To this house I say, I have never pretended to be a great House of Commons man, but I can pay the House the highest compliment – I never stopped fearing it.”

Some short comments on the noble nature of politics ended with an abrupt “I wish everyone, friend or foe, well and that is that, the end.”

Unusually, there was sustained applause and a standing ovation from MPs of all sides. As Mr Blair left the chamber he shook the Speaker’s hand.

Today was likely to be his last appearance in the Commons.

Mr Blair is expected to be appointed a special envoy to the Middle East and will resign his Sedgefield seat later today.

After a short reception at No 10 to thank staff, Mr Blair will go to Buckingham Palace to step down as Prime Minister.

Gordon Brown is scheduled to go to the Palace at where the Queen will ask him to form a government at 1.30pm

An hour later Mr Brown will enter 10 Downing St as Prime Minister.

Senior cabinet jobs such as Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary are expected to be filled immediately.

The rest of the Cabinet and government will be announced on Thursday and Friday.