The Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said that Cabinet this morning would be discussing Egypt, with an update from the Foreign Secretary. Following on from this there would be a discussion at the National Security Council.
The PMS reiterated what was said yesterday, that it was important for the Egyptian Government to listen to the aspirations of its people. This meant a transition to a broad-based government, including opposition figures, in order to produce real political change. It was clear from yesterday’s Cabinet appointments that this was not yet happening and we considered that to be disappointing. It was important for President Mubarak to respond to the Egyptian peoples’ call for real, visible and comprehensive change.
Asked if that meant we were dictating who should make up the Egyptian Government, the PMS said no, we were not dictating who should be in the Government. We were saying that there was a clear call for change from the Egyptian people and it was important that they responded to that.
Asked if opposition figures such as Mohamed ElBaradei should be considered for Government, the PMS said that it was not for us to dictate, but ElBaradei was the sort of figure that the regime needed to be talking to. The point about yesterday’s Cabinet appointments was that many of the appointees had served in past governments or had ties to the current regime, which did not represent the change that the Egyptian people were calling for.
Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to any leaders overnight or this morning about the situation in Egypt, the PMS said no, but we were in close contact with our Ambassador.
Put that people were still going on holiday to the Red Sea and asked if the Foreign Office was considering changing its advice, the PMS said that the Foreign Office kept the guidance up to date and the current guidance set out our latest assessment of the situation. The numbers of British nationals waiting at Cairo airport had reduced considerably overnight and there had been a number of commercial flights leaving with spare seats, which meant there was not a sense of lots of people being unable to get out.
Public Accounts Committee Report
Asked about the Public Accounts Committee report out today concerning lost money, the PMS said that this was not necessarily money that was lost but money they were pursuing. There was always a difference between the amount of money that theoretically should be raised and the amount of money that actually came in, and HMRC’s objective was to narrow that gap as much as possible.
Asked if the Prime Minister was worried about the size of the gap, the PMS that clearly this was not the situation as we’d like to see it, but HMRC put resources into assessing where they saw the greatest risks to the Exchequer and focussed their efforts on raising that money.
Asked when the Government documents on Al Megrahi would be published, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had asked the Cabinet Secretary to look over those documents and decide whether or not they should be published. That review was ongoing and would report shortly.
Asked if previous Ministers were consulted, the PMS said that that was part of the process.
Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned about reports that the Duke of York had been involved in Al Megrahi’s release, the PMS said that there were a number of leaks reported in the newspapers today but we did not comment on leaks. The PMS drew peoples’ attention to the fact that the Bill Rammell letter mentioned in the press today had been released under the FOI Act at the end of 2009.
National Institute of Economic and Social Research
Asked what the Prime Minister thought of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research’s comments that the Government should delay the spending cuts, the PMS said that we set out our consolidation plans in the Budget last year and in the Spending Review, and our intention was to implement them. The PMS also pointed journalists to the manufacturing figures published this morning, which showed that the sector expanded in January at its fastest pace on record. It was early days but hopefully it was a sign of the kind of rebalancing that we needed to see. The official statistics and the survey data both showed a relatively strong performance from the manufacturing sector.
Asked if Andy Coulson had now left Downing Street, the PMS said yes.
Asked if his replacement would be named soon, the PMS said that we were making good progress and would make an announcement when we were ready.
Asked if Andy Coulson got any severance pay, the PMS said no.
Asked if the AV Bill had been discussed at Cabinet today, the PMS said that there had been a purely factual update: an agreement had been reached last night and there would now be a series of votes today and tomorrow before the Bill proceeded to the next stage.
Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned about the amount of money being spent on football transfer fees in this time of austerity, the PMS said that there were enough football pundits already. Ultimately this was a matter for the industry.