FCO funding of BBC World Service
Asked if the Government had referred to the funding decision as a ‘massive u-turn’, as posted on the FCO website, the PMS (Prime Minister’s Spokesman) referred people to the Written Ministerial Statement.
Asked for a response to the Italian Foreign Minister’s comments that Libyan hostilities should cease, including NATO bombings, the PMS referred to the statement published following Monday’s Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, which included Italy, which said that the EU was unwavering in its commitment to protecting Libyan civilians, including through the intensification of pressure on the Libyan regime.
Asked if the Italians were inconsistent in their position, the PMS reiterated that they had signed up the Council statement. Put that the Italian Minister had made the comments after European Council, the PMS said we had a strong and broad coalition that was fully committed to carrying out the mission set out in UN Security Council Resolution 1973. The PMS added that we had increased pressure on the Libyan regime and believed that pressure had proved effective. It was discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday and everyone signed up to the statement. He said he expected it to be discussed further at European Council.
Asked if the PM had any concerns over the doubts being expressed by military chiefs about the operation, the PMS said the military view here was that the pressure we were putting on the Libyan regime was proving effective.
Asked about the Government’s views on the need for a ceasefire, the PMS said our view was that we should continue to intensify pressure on the regime.
Put that we were losing support from the Arab League which was crucial to securing the UN Security Council mandate, the PMS responded that if you looked at what was happening we were continuing to apply pressure on the Gaddafi regime. He added that the pressure was coming through military, political and economic pressure and that there was still a very broad and strong coalition in favour of action.
Asked if the MoD would be giving a statement on costs and if so, when, the PMS said he believed they would update the House next week but he did not know the precise timings.
Asked how long the campaign in Libya would last and whether the PM understood military concerns about this going on beyond the summer, the PMS said we had a very clear objective to protect the civilian population and the right approach was to intensify pressure on the regime. He added the CDS had been very clear that we could continue to do that as long as we chose to do so.
Asked for an assessment on how the military operation to date had gone, the PMS said our assessment was that pressure was having an effect in Libya. He added that if you looked at what was happening in the west of the country, if you look at what was happening in the south and areas of the country that were traditionally strongholds for Gaddafi, that pressure was having an effect.
Asked if there was a Plan B considering Gaddafi remained in power, the PMS said that the plan was to continue to intensify pressure on the regime.
Asked if the PM agreed that there was an asymmetric warfare whereby generals were allowed to speak on the situation but the PM may not, or at least not wish to reprimand them for doing so publically, the PMS said the PM made his position clear at yesterday’s press conference.
Asked for a reaction to the outcome of the Unison strike ballot at their annual conference this week and Lord Tebbit’s response, the PMS said we wanted to avoid strikes as we believed they were not the right for the economy and we would continue having constructive discussions with the unions about the changes we needed to make, particularly to public sector pensions.
Asked if it was sensible to have contingency plans in place, the PMS said it was always sensible to have contingency plans but we believed that we should talk to the unions and have a constructive dialogue with them. He added that our objective here was to protect public sector pensions in a way that was fair to public sector workers but also fair to the taxpayer.
Asked if there were any differences between the PM and Head of the Military on planned withdrawal dates and about expectations of President Obama’s speech, the PMS said, on the speech, we would not speculate in advance about the detail but it was widely expected that he would say something about US plans for troop withdrawal. He added that the last time the PM and President Obama discussed the issue was during the President’s visit to London last month and they agreed at that time to stay in close touch ahead of the US announcement. He further added that from the UK’s perspective, the PM has made clear that UK forces will not be in a combat role in Afghanistan by 2015. Any decision to withdraw UK troops was something clearly for us to make and we will make decisions on the conditions on the ground and on the basis of military advice.
Asked when the PM and President had last spoken, the PMS said the last conversation had taken place in Deauville but clearly between then and now there had many conversations between UK and US officials and national security advisors had been talking. The PM’s Special Representative on Afghanistan, Mark Sedwill, was in Washington very recently.
Asked if our assessment of the threat posed by Taliban leaders the same as that of the American’s, the PMS said we all made our own assessments and clearly we talked to the US and shared information but we would make our own assessment and we would make our assessment on troop withdrawals based on our understanding of the conditions on the ground and military advice.
Asked if he recognised the figure quoted by The Times that we were to pull 1000 troops out by next year, the PMS said he wasn’t going to speculate on what we might say.
Asked if the UK government knew what President Obama would announce later that day, the PMS said we had been having conversations with the US about the announcement but it wasn’t for him to make that announcement.
Asked if 2014/2015 was a ‘conditions based’ deadline or something that would happen regardless of circumstances, the PMS said it was the deadline based on an agreed international strategy which would see the transition to Afghan national security forces by the end of 2014. Asked whether that contradicted Sir Peter Wall’s comments that it may turn into a conditions based deadline, the PMS responded that, as Sir Peter Wall had said himself, it was important to set those goals to make progress. He added that 2015 was very clearly a deadline and what happened between now and then and the rate of change would obviously be determined by what was happening on the ground.
Asked for a response to claims that President Obama’s timetable was being set by the 2012 US presidential elections, the PMS said the President would be setting out his position in more detail later that day and he wouldn’t want to pre-empt that.
Asked if he could rehearse the arguments for the 2015 deadline, the PMS said it was based on the agreed strategy.
Asked to explain what the Defence Secretary had meant when he said we might need significant security presence in Afghanistan after 2015, the PMS said the Defence Secretary had always been very clear that UK forces will longer be in a combat role at that stage but they may remain to train and mentor Afghan forces. Pressed that the Defence Secretary had meant providing security presence above and beyond training should conditions worsen, the PMS reiterated that UK forces would not remain in a combat role after 2015.
Asked if the 2015 deadline was unmovable, the PMS responded that it was a clear deadline.
Asked for the PM’s reaction to the vote of confidence in the Greek government last night, the PMS said there wasn’t anything more to say about Greece beyond what the PM had said during yesterday’s press conference.
Asked if Boris Johnson’s recent visit to Downing Street was an official visit or a private matter, the PMS responded that he was the Mayor of London and people would have to wait for the official logs to be published.