Asked if there was a Cabinet meeting that morning, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said that as the Prime Minister hadn’t been due to be in the UK, there was no Cabinet in the diary that day. The PMS added that the Prime Minister was visiting Lockheed Martin that morning.
Asked whether there would be a political cabinet before the Prime Minister travelled, the PMS spokesman said there was no specific meeting planned, but pointed out that the Prime Minister met his Cabinet colleagues regularly.
Asked whether Stewart Jackson and Adam Holloway had been fired, the PMS said that there would be more on this during the course of the day.
Asked when the Prime Minister was likely to make clear what powers he wanted to be repatriated from Brussels, the PMS said that there was a Government position set out in the Coalition Agreement and that was that we would examine the balance of powers. He added that there were always negotiations in Europe, one of those potentially may involve some limited change to the Treaty. That was what the European Council had agreed the previous Sunday. The PMS added that as the thinking on that developed, Government would think about how best we could further our interests in those negotiations, but as the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister had said, the priorities for Government were to protect the integrity of the single market and to protect financial services.
Asked whether the Prime Minister thought the previous day’s vote strengthened his negotiating hand in Europe or weakened it, the PMS replied that what we had seen was Parliament having a debate on an issue. There were some strong opinions on that issue. We would act in the national interest in the way we approached future negotiations, but we would need to wait and see what happened.
Put that it was embarrassing for the Prime Minister to suffer such a huge revolt, the PMS said the Prime Minister’s position was that it was a difficult issue and that when you had difficult issues the best thing to do was to confront them, not run away from them. The PMS added that the House voted very clearly on the motion and now we would move on and focus on negotiations.
Asked whether the Prime Minister thought that Patrick McLoughlin had done a good job, the PMS referred to his previous point that this was a very difficult issue and that the Prime Minister understood that people had very strong feelings and wanted to make those feelings known, but his view was that we should confront the issue rather than running away from it.
Asked whether the Prime Minister would stay in Brussels while the Eurozone meeting was taking place the following night, the PMS said he understood discussions were still ongoing in Brussels as to the precise choreography of the meetings.
Asked if there was an understanding between the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister and how this sat with comments made by the Deputy Prime Minister and Michael Gove, the PMS said that the Coalition Agreement sets out the policy. He added that we had a Coalition Government and some of the things that Conservative members of the Government were saying reflected Conservative Party policy and some of the things reflected the Government’s policy, but that the Government’s policy was very clear as it was set out in the Coalition Agreement.
Asked whether the Prime Minister accepted that repatriation was something for a future parliament and that it was something that would not be possible within the confines of the existing Coalition, the PMS said he wouldn’t pre-empt any negotiation. We knew there might be a discussion coming up which involved limited Treaty change. The Government had some priorities and would think more carefully about that negotiation and what we want from that negotiation nearer the time, depending on whether there was a proposal and if so, what that proposal was. The PMS added that some people were also talking about wider changes that might be coming in the European Union, but that might be some years down the line. We wouldn’t, before any negotiation, want to tie our hands and set out in great detail what our objectives might be.
Put that the Deputy Prime Minister had already set out his position that repatriation was not going to happen, the PMS said that the media was throwing around phrases and they could mean very different things to different people, for example ‘treaty change’ for some people meant a Nice-style/Lisbon-style treaty, while other people might have in their head a three-word change to an article of the Treaty. He added that they were different things and if you were in negotiation you would approach them differently. He said that the same was true for repatriation. This meant different things to different people. As the Prime Minister had said, we had already had a discussion in Europe about Treaty change and the price we had extracted was to remove ourselves from the European stability mechanism. That was a repatriation of power which had already happened.
Put that Michael Gove had said that he wasn’t talking about handing powers over, he was talking about handing powers back, the PMS said that when you listen to Conservative Ministers they may sometimes be expressing a party view on these issues.
The PMS added that it was very clear what the Government position was and that was that we would examine the balance of existing competences. The Government also wanted to see a European Union that was more pro-enterprise, that was focused more on growth, and was going further to strengthen the single market. Those were the Government’s priorities.
Asked if examining the competencies was just an academic exercise, the PMS said that we had an interest in trying to shape the European Union, and one of the key issues in any European issue was deciding what should be done at a European level and what should be done at a member state level.
Asked if it was a Foreign Office exercise, the PMS said that he would expect the Foreign Office to lead but every Government department had some interest in the European Union and most departments had a section that dealt with European issues, but the lead Europe department was the Foreign Office.
Put that it did seem that there was a fundamental rift, with Nick Clegg saying that there would be no repatriation, the PMS said that there was a Conservative Party view on Europe before the election and there was a Liberal Democrat view and they were not identical and that was why there was a Coalition Agreement setting out the agreed position for this Government.
Asked whether there were ongoing discussions between the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister on the rebalance of powers, the PMS said there were regular meetings between the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister and a number of those recently had been focused on European issues, but the key European issue that they were focused on was the issue of the Eurozone and whether we could help and support progress so that those problems were dealt with properly.
Asked about the Prime Minister’s comments the previous day on his commitment to bringing back more powers from Brussels and whether he was expressing the view of or the Government or the Conservative Party, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had been explicit in his statement that the three things he was referring to were the three things set out in the Conservative manifesto. The PMS added that we had a Coalition Government and we had a Coalition policy.
Asked why the Government wished to abolish the post of Chief Coroner, the PMS said that there would be a vote and debate later that day, but this post was a reasonably recent creation and we were trying to make sure that the system worked better for service families in a number of ways: for the first time the Government was introducing a coroner charter which would set out standards that bereaved families could expect to receive, we were appointing a ministerial board supported by representatives of bereaved families to be in charge of monitoring the system to make sure it was responsive to the needs of service families and we were ensuring that coroners were getting the specialist training they needed so they could conduct military inquests in the right way.