Asked whether the Government agreed with Lord Ashdown that a no-fly zone would need UN, Arab and Libyan support, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that we were doing some work on this and other contingency plans. People would expect us to do that and it was right for the Government to be thinking about all possible scenarios and how we would respond to those. The focus of the Government’s work now was to step up efforts to increase pressure on the regime and we were doing that through the UN and with European partners.
The PMS said that the Government was pleased that there would be a European Council meeting next Friday; the Prime Minister would be talking to European colleagues over the next few days and setting out what we would like to see happen at that meeting. We were also stepping up the humanitarian effort; we had DfID teams in place on the borders of Libya and we were working actively with aid organisations, including the UN, to provide further support as necessary.
Put that the Foreign Secretary had said last night it was possible to put a no-fly zone in place without a UN resolution, the PMS said he did not think that was direct quote from the Foreign Secretary. We were doing work on some contingencies and while the focus until now had been on getting British nationals out of the country and the pressure we could bring to bear on the regime, we were now stepping up our humanitarian effort and thinking about a range of different options, which would depend on what happened in the country and how the situation evolved. The PMS said we would not get drawn into commenting in detail about those options.
Asked if the Prime Minister accepted that the UK’s ability to operate a no-fly zone would be compromised by defence cuts, the PMS replied that we were looking at the options involved. The PMS said that in terms of Defence cuts, people would recall that we had a very large deficit in the UK and part of the solution was to cut public spending; the reality at the moment was that we were paying more in interest than we were on funding for the MOD, the FCO and aid put together. The answer to that was not to borrow more money, but to deal with the deficit and get rid of the debt interest.
Put that critics were making the point that the Prime Minister could fall into the trap of over-committing and under-resourcing, the PMS said that the SDSR was about planning on a sensible basis the armed forces we would need for the future. The PMS added that we could not protect our national security unless we had economic security, so we needed to deal with the deficit.
On whether the cuts in the SDSR were the right cuts, the PMS replied that we had had a Spending Review and a Defence Review and we were implementing them. The SDSR was based on a thorough assessment of our needs in the future and we were now implementing that.
Asked if the Government accepted Tony Blair’s ‘doctrine’ of humanitarian interventionism that was used to justify the military action in Kosovo, the PMS said that he thought that was a point about international law. Asked if the Prime Minister had consulted the Attorney General, the PMS said that we were doing some planning for various scenarios; we were working the phones and working with international partners to bring pressure on that regime. We were not consulting lawyers.
On whether the UK Government should be so involved in the situation, the PMS said that we thought it was right to be concerned about the situation in Libya and it was right that the international community should come together to put pressure on the regime.
Asked whether the MOD were free to juggle their budget around or was the SDSR set in stone, the PMS said that the events of the last few weeks reinforced the assessment made in the SDSR. The PMS said that the SDSR talked about how we could ensure a more flexible response to events in future given the uncertainties we were likely to face. We were planning for more flexible armed forces that could deal more efficiently with a variety of different scenarios in the future.
Asked about the make-up of the European Council meeting and what the UK hoped to get out of it, the PMS said that he believed there would still be a meeting of the Eurozone countries and then a meeting of EU27 to discuss Egypt and Libya and the wider region. The Prime Minister had been talking about Europe’s neighbourhood policy in that region and the DPM would also be talking about that today.
On whether the Prime Minister had had any other conversations with European leaders or President Obama, the PMS said there was nothing to report.
Asked if the Prime Minister was determined to press ahead with the cuts agenda, the PMS said that we had a significant deficit which we had to deal with and that meant finding savings in various places. The cost of the police was £11bn and three quarters of that was spent on pay, so pay was the obvious place to start when looking for savings.
The PMS added that we wanted to protect the front line. That meant that we would need to look very hard at pay and conditions, before looking at police numbers. We would need to wait and see what the Windsor report said, but we would have to look at the issue of police pay.