Press release

Number 10 Press Briefing - Afternoon From 1 March 2011

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

From the Prime Minister's spokesperson on: Libya and MOD redundancies.

Libya

Asked if the Prime Minister was happy with the response from the EU on Libya so far, the Prime Minister’s Spokesperson (PMS) told the assembled press that there had been a big diplomatic effort over several days including the process at the UN and we were pleased with how it had progressed. The Prime Minister spoke with President Sarkozy and he agreed to work with the French Government on possible options, to go to an extra European Council where the issue could be discussed further. The PMS said that the Prime Minister would spend a considerable amount of time in the coming days talking to opposite numbers in Europe about how we could best respond to what was happening in Libya.

Asked if there was a sense that we were dragging an unwilling EU along with us, the PMS pointed to the conversation with President Sarkozy last night where the French President said he was keen we worked together and that’s what we were doing.

Asked about the tightening of sanctions,  the PMS said that we would report back when ready. In recent days the Prime Minister had been talking about Europe’s neighbourhood policy and the importance of greater conditionality attached to payments made across the region. The PMS pointed out that the Prime Minister responded to this issue at the earlier press conference - we were trying to look more broadly at our approach to this region and as the Prime Minister had put it, think about what was round the corner.

In answer to a question about which forums were most desirable for action to be authorised, the PMS said that it depended on objectives. At present time we were working through all possible fora - UN, European colleagues. It was right that the European Union should have clarity about how they dealt with these countries. The Prime Minister did not think the policies in the past had necessarily been that successful.

Responding to a question about Russian opposition to the no-fly zone and whether we could do it without a UN mandate, the PMS pointed to the Prime Minister’s comments in the press conference earlier. The first priority was getting British nationals out. Our second priority had been to exert political pressure on the regime and to isolate it. We were now in the process of planning for a humanitarian response. DFID had deployed teams to the border with Libya and we were considering all the options.

When asked about whether humanitarian planning would involve military assets, the PMS said DFID would be able to provide people with details.

Asked how urgently we were exploring ‘all’ options given the risk of civil war, the PMS said that we were prioritising work in the way the Prime Minister had set out. Our focus at the moment was on applying political pressure to the regime.

Questioned about Libyans in the east of the country who had said they did not want intervention and whether this conflicted with UK policy, the PMS said that one of the issues at the moment was ensuring we had better information about what was happening on the ground.

As people would know, we had taken our embassy staff out of Tripoli and they were now in London working from the FCO. One of the things that those staff were going to do was to try to make contact with opposition groups and offer political support, as well as getting a better sense of what was happening on the ground.

Asked if the Prime Minister had stepped back from the comments he had made yesterday on arming the opposition in Libya, the PMS said that our priority was getting more information on the situation on the ground.

Asked whether the Prime Minister thought Gaddafi was deranged, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister thought that Gaddafi had lost all credibility.

Asked if it was desirable that opposition groups in the East brought down Gaddafi, the PMS replied that we wanted to see a transition to a democratic and open Libya and we wanted to see the aspirations of the people met. Precisely how that happened would ultimately need to reflect the desires of the Libyan people.

Asked how the Government was making contact with opposition groups if embassy staff were back in the Foreign Office and whether there was any intention of putting people back into Libya, the PMS said that the embassy staff were working from here.

Asked if the Prime Minister was embarrassed that the announcement of the RAF redundancy happened today, the PMS pointed to the response given on the same subject at the earlier press conference.

Asked how much the Government knew about the opposition groups and whether they could have links to the Taliban, the PMS advised people to speak to the Foreign Office, and said that part of this process was about informing ourselves.

Questioned about whether he would be surprised if Libya still had mustard gas stocks, the PMS said that it was his understanding that there were stocks. The PMS said that Libya had been decommissioning their stocks over time. That was the commitment, but it was not clear whether they were keeping to their commitments in full.

Asked about whether the Prime Minister had a similar view to John Major who pointed to the urgency needed over the coming days, the PMS said it was a difficult judgement to make. There was a huge amount of uncertainty about what would happen next, which is why we were going through this process of contingency planning and thinking through all the options.

Asked whether it was fair to say that until 10 days ago, the Government had no contact with opposition figures at all, the PMS said he was not sure whether that was fair to assume. The PMS advised people to speak to Foreign Office as the embassy staff would understand the context best.

Asked whether regime change was the bottom line, the PMS said we had made ourselves clear on Gaddafi. The rest could only be judged by the Libyan people themselves. This was about responding to the aspirations of the Libyan people.

Questioned about whether the Prime Minister was confident with Tony Blair as UN envoy to the Middle East and whether the Prime Minister had spoken to Mr Blair himself, the PMS said we would use all available options to influence the regime. The British Government had clearly been in touch with Mr Blair and indeed we supported him with resources in his role.

MOD Redundancies

Asked about the MOD announcement today on the squadrons not having been part of the SDSR and whether that meant the original process was not complete, the PMS said the SDSR involved strategic decisions about the future. Clearly there were detailed decisions that flowed from that and we were explicit at the time that a number of detailed decisions would follow from the Spending Review.