Cabinet: Japan and Libya
The Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said that Cabinet had met this morning and discussed the situation in Japan, and the ongoing situation in Libya and the Middle East. The Foreign Secretary was not in attendance as he was at the G8 meeting so the Foreign Minister, Jeremy Browne and the Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir John Beddington led the discussion on Japan. They discussed what was happening with the nuclear reactors at Fukushima and John Beddington set out his scientific advice to Cabinet, which was what we were basing our travel advice on. He made clear that the measures taken by the Japanese authorities were proportionate.
There was also an update from Jeremy Browne on the consular efforts in Japan. We had been posting additional staff into Japan to help. The whole Cabinet wanted to put on record its thanks for the work that embassy staff were doing under difficult circumstances, and the work that the search and rescue team had been doing.
The Prime Minister updated Cabinet on the latest situation in Libya and the Middle East.
Asked if there were any details regarding British citizens in Japan, the PMS said that there were some figures about how many Brits we believed were normally in Japan, which was around 17,000. In terms of assessing how many of those people could have been affected it became more difficult. We were getting information from relatives about people they thought could be in affected areas. It was an evolving picture, and the work being undertaken by the Foreign Office was painstaking. Due to the nature of this work we would not be providing numbers on a daily basis. There had been massive devastation and trying to establish whether or not a certain person was in an affected region was a lengthy process.
Asked if there were any confirmed British deaths, the PMS said no.
Asked how many relatives had contacted the Government, the PMS said that this was also hard to say with any degree of certainty. We had received about 5,000 calls through our helpline, but many people who called were doing so to find out about travel restrictions.
Asked if there had been any discussion at Cabinet about the UK’s nuclear policy, the PMS said that the Energy Secretary had commissioned a report on whether there were any lessons for us to learn.
Asked if the Energy Secretary had said anything at Cabinet about the situation in Japan, the PMS said that the Energy Secretary briefed Cabinet on the situation at Fukushima and how it was different to Chernobyl.
Asked what Sir John Beddington’s advice was, the PMS said that he considered the current action being taken by the Japanese authorities to be appropriate and proportionate.
Asked if there had been a discussion at Cabinet about UK plans to build a new nuclear station, the PMS said that a report had just been commissioned by the Energy Secretary and we would wait for that to conclude. One of the things the Prime Minister had said yesterday was that the situation in this country was different as we didn’t have the same levels of seismic activity as Japan. However, there were natural events that took place in this country, like floods and one of the things the report would look at was whether or not current safety measures were sufficiently robust.
Asked what the Prime Minister had said about Libya at Cabinet, the PMS said that it had been very much along the lines of what the Prime Minister had said to the House yesterday. Our view was that the situation continued to be very serious and we were monitoring it closely. Gaddafi was continuing to brutalise his own people and was ignoring the will of the international community. There were multiple breaches of the UN Resolution 1970, which called to an immediate end to violence and we hadn’t seen that. We also had concerns about the policing of the arms embargo and mercenaries. The Prime Minister was clear that we had to bring pressure to bear on the regime and consider the option of a no-fly zone. We were under no illusions that it was a difficult discussion to have.
Asked if the UK and France were drafting a resolution and if it would be tabled, the PMS said that there were no plans to table it at present.
Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to any European leaders today, the PMS said no, but the Prime Minister had spoken to the Qatari Prime Minister and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi yesterday about developments in the region and next steps.
Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with the US in terms of the presence of Saudi troops in Bahrain, the PMS said that our view had been consistent throughout: right across the region governments should respond to calls for change with reform and not repression. We were concerned about the escalation of the situation in Bahrain and we would call on all parties to exercise restraint.
Asked if the Prime Minister regretted what he had said in a recent speech about civil servants as the ‘enemies of enterprise’, the PMS said that we needed to have a robust strategy for growth, which meant tackling barriers to enterprise wherever we found them. In various areas overzealous regulation could stand in the way of enterprise and growth and we needed to deal with that. In terms of the civil service the Prime Minister had been consistently clear about his appreciation for the civil service and the public sector.