The Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) began by saying that the National Security Council had met this morning. The PMS said that they had discussed the tragic events in Norway last week and took stock of the UK’s ability to respond to threats from terrorism and extremism.
The meeting agreed that the UK was well prepared to deal with such threats, but in the light of events, decided that we should look at three specific areas. Firstly, we should continue to offer technical support to the Norwegians to help with their investigation and the relevant organisations, such as the police should explore any UK links. The police and the security services should look at planning to ensure there was nothing further we could do to ensure we were keeping the public safe. And finally we should ensure that we had adequate scrutiny of behaviour of far right individuals and groups. This would be carried out under the Government’s Contest and Prevent strategies.
Asked if the Prime Minister accepted that there may not have been adequate scrutiny of far right groups up until now, the PMS replied that the purpose of this work was to ensure there was nothing further we could be doing to ensure the public were safe. The PMS said that after an incident of this kind, it was right to look at what we were doing and make sure that if there were any lessons to be learnt from it, we would learn them.
Asked if possible links to the English Defence League would be part of the review, the PMS replied that this was not a review; we were taking the opportunity to look again at what we were doing and to make sure we had the right measures in place. In terms of the EDL, the PMS said that that was something that should be investigated by the relevant authorities.
Put that campaigners had been calling for more scrutiny of groups such as the EDL, the PMS said that we had only recently updated our counter terrorism strategy. That had set out an approach which was based on the assessment of risks and included all forms of terrorism, including right wing extremist terrorism.
Asked if the police would take the lead on far right groups, the PMS said that the police and the security services cooperated on all these issues and he expected all the relevant agencies to be involved. Asked whether the NSC meeting had been scheduled, the PMS said that it had been.
Put that the Government did not formally announce it was monitoring far right groups until the publication of the Contest strategy on the 12th July, the PMS said that we had recently updated the strategy, but we had always had a strategy that was based on the assessment of risk. Put that the Government must have changed its assessment of the risks, the PMS said that that was something that was kept under review at all times.
Asked who would be carrying out the work, the PMS said that it would be coordinated by the National Security Adviser and his staff and they would report back to the NSC.
Put that as the Government had just published Contest was there really a need to have another review, the PMS replied that this was not a review - we had recently reviewed our counter-terrorism strategy. The NSC was asking some sensible questions as you would expect after an incident of this kind and seeing whether there were any lessons to be learnt.
Asked if all relevant authorities included those in devolved administrations, the PMS said that it did. On why the threat level had been recently reduced, the PMS said that the overall threat level had been reduced; we considered all the risks and all the threats and planned our activity around them.
On whether there was a discussion on gun licensing, the PMS said that that issue arose following the shootings in Cumbria and added that we continued to have the toughest firearms rules anywhere in the world.
When asked about the timeframe for the exercise, the PMS said that all of this was constantly under review but added that these questions would be considered swiftly.
Asked about links between the suspect and the UK, as well as any re-assessment of the threat level, the PMS said that on the first point, it was a matter for the police. In terms of the threat level, the PMS said that that was something that was constantly under review.
Asked if the Government would be revealing the specific threat level for far right groups, the PMS said that that was not the practice. Put that the threat level for Republican groups in Northern Ireland had been revealed, the PMS replied that it was not normal procedure to set out separate threat levels for different organisations or areas.
Asked if the Bank of England should engage in more quantitative easing, the PMS replied that it was a matter for the Bank of England. On whether Vince Cable was right to suggest that the Bank of England should do that, the PMS advised journalists that what Vince Cable had said was that it was a judgement for the Bank of England.
Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with the comments made by Vince Cable when he had said that the state of the economy was worryingly weak, the PMS replied that we had always been very clear that it was going to be a tough year and if you looked around the world at this time, the backdrop was pretty challenging. There were a lot of uncertainties over what was happening in the Eurozone and elsewhere in the world; we had seen rising energy and commodity prices. So it would be a difficult period ahead.
The PMS said that Vince Cable had also made clear yesterday that we had inherited significant problems that needed to be sorted out, not least the aftermath of a banking crisis and a very challenging situation with the public finances.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought aspects of the Government’s economic policy should be changed, the PMS said that as the Chancellor had made clear at the weekend, we intended to stick to our plans to tackle Britain’s debts; because of the action we were taking, interest rates in this country had remained low.
Asked if this had been a tougher year than expected, the PMS replied that we were under no illusions that this was going to be a tough year. We had just come through a banking crisis, we had record levels of borrowing and there were significant problems around the world. The PMS said that that backdrop was going to make life difficult for this country.
Asked about Vince Cable’s comments about “right wing nutters” in the US, the PMS said that Vince Cable had been making a point about the discussions in the US and essentially saying that they needed to deal with those issues.
Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned about the impasse in the US, the PMS said that clearly these were issues for the Americans and he didn’t think we needed to provide extra commentary on the subject.
Asked if the Government would argue that it had no control over exterior world events after tomorrow’s growth figures, the PMS advised people to wait and see - the figures would be published by the ONS tomorrow. It was certainly true that there was a great deal of uncertainty in the world economy at the present time and we were dealing with a challenging set of economic circumstances.
Asked why the ONS was wasting money on the National Wellbeing scheme, the PMS replied that the ONS had actually had a very positive response to the work they were doing.
On whether the PMS was satisfied with the Government’s growth strategy, the PMS said that there was always more work we could do and people would see more on Thursday when the Business Secretary was setting out what we were doing to cut red tape.
Asked about the impartiality of Lord Leveson following reports that he had attended two parties at the house of Rupert Murdoch in the past year, the PMS said that the Prime Minister and the Lord Chief Justice were made aware of the events being referred to. The PMS said that we had been given one recommendation by the Lord Chief Justice for the position and we had accepted that recommendation.
On whether the Prime Minister viewed those events as irrelevant, the PMS said that we thought Lord Leveson would do a good and thorough job. This inquiry would be held in public and he was sure there would be a great deal of scrutiny.
Asked if the Prime Minister was happy that there could be some differences between the parties on whether Lord Leveson should be heading the inquiry, the PMS replied that he had been in the Chamber for the debate and there had been widespread support for the appointment.