Briefing by the Prime Minister's Spokesman on: Iraq war, Yarlswood, Afghanistan, Prime Minister in the US, Graduate tax, Network Rail and Al Megrahi.
Asked whether the Government thought that British military personnel serving in Iraq were serving there illegally, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that the Coalition Government did not have a specific view on the legality of the Iraq War. The Iraq Inquiry was looking at a range of issues including the legal basis for going to war.
The PMS added that the comments made by the Deputy Prime Minister at PMQs today, were his long-held personal views.
Put that the Government did not have a view on whether the Iraq War was legal or illegal, the PMS replied that the Government had not expressed a view. The Government was waiting for the outcome of the Iraq Inquiry.
Asked if the Deputy Prime Minister spoke on behalf of the Government, the PMS replied that in this instance he was making remarks that reflected his long-held views.
On whether the Deputy Prime Minister was speaking as the leader of the Liberal Democrats in this instance, the PMS replied that he was.
Put that if that was the case, how were people meant to distinguish between when the Deputy Prime Minister was speaking on behalf of the Government or speaking as the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the PMS said that the Deputy Prime Minister was entitled to express his own view at the dispatch box.
Asked what the legal basis was of our continuing presence in Iraq, the PMS advised people to check with the FCO.
On whether the Prime Minister was concerned that the Deputy Prime Minister had pre-judged the outcome of the Iraq Inquiry, the PMS said that the Chilcot Inquiry was looking at a broad range of issues regarding the basis for Iraq conflict. It was looking at the legal basis as well as the lessons that could be learnt and the Government was looking forward to that report.
When asked if the Prime Minister would discourage others from expressing their view on the war and therefore applying pressure on the Inquiry, the PMS said that the Prime Minister was looking forward to seeing the report from the Chilcot Inquiry.
Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to the Deputy Prime Minister today on the issue, the PMS replied that she was not aware of any conversation.
Asked again if the Government had a view on whether the Iraq War was legal or not, the PMS said that she was unaware of a particular expression on the legality of the Iraq War. The Chilcot Inquiry was looking at the legal basis of entering into the conflict and we were awaiting that report.
Put that the Government was waiting for the outcome of the Inquiry in order to form a view on the legality of the Iraq War, the PMS replied that the Government had not commented on the legality or illegality of the Iraq War up to this point. The Deputy Prime Minister was repeating his long-held views.
Asked whether the Deputy Prime Minister should be expressing his own views at the dispatch box, while standing in for the Prime Minister, the PMS said the Deputy Prime Minister was entitled to do so.
Asked if it would routinely be the case that the Deputy Prime Minister would deputise for the Prime Minister at PMQs, the PMS said that that was the precedent that had been set today.
Put that the Deputy Prime Minister had been talking about the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and if Chilcot did conclude that the invasion was illegal, would the Government need to cope with legal actions against troops, the PMS advised people not to get ahead of themselves.
Asked whether the Deputy Prime Minister would correct his comment in the Commons that the Yarlswood Detention Centre would be closing, the PMS said that the Deputy Prime Minister was talking in the context of child detention and it was the case that there would be an announcement in the next few days regarding the closure of the Yarlswood Family Unit.
Put that the Deputy Prime Minister did say that Yarlswood would close, the PMS said that the adult centre would remain open, but the family unit, which historically detained children would close. The PMS added that the Deputy Prime Minister was referring to the family unit in the context of child detention.
Asked if it was “chiselled in stone” that UK combat troops would be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the PMS replied that she wouldn’t characterise it in those terms. Both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister had said that they would expect combat troops to be out of Afghanistan by 2015, in line with the current strategy.
That did not mean there would be no troops in Afghanistan, as we clearly had an ongoing mission there in a training role. Conditions on the ground would dictate all of the above, but the 2015 date was integral.
Prime Minister in the US
Asked why the Prime Minister described the UK as the United States’ “junior partner” in 1940 when the United States did not enter the Second World War until a year later and didn’t that belittle the efforts of British armed forces who were fighting a lone battle that year, the PMS said that the last thing the Prime Minister would have wanted to do was to create that impression. The PMS added that the Prime Minister held our Armed Forces in the very highest regard.
Asked about the possibility of a graduate tax, the PMS said that Lord Browne was looking at the issue of higher education funding. One of the options was taxation. Lord Browne was yet to report and the Government would wait for that report before making any further decisions.
Put that Vince Cable seemed to suggest last week that this was one route that should be seriously looked at, the PMS said that people had different views on the subject, but we were particularly interested in what Lord Browne had to say on the subject.
Put that Network Rail had voted on bonuses today, the PMS said that the Secretary of State for Transport had written to Network Rail when it had become apparent that they would be offering significantly high bonuses and asked the board of Network Rail to reconsider. The Prime Minister had said at the time that he was deeply disappointed and his view remained the same.
Asked about the Prime Minister not ruling out an inquiry into the release of Al Megrahi, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had asked the Cabinet Secretary to produce a report, setting out what papers were related to the case and provide advice to the Prime Minister on which of these papers could be released.
The Prime Minister had been very clear that he had no intention of having an inquiry. An inquiry into the decision taken by the Scottish Executive had found that due process had been followed.