Briefing by the Prime Minister's Spokesman on: US trip and misc.
Asked about the Prime Minister’s talks yesterday with President Obama and in particular what was said about Megrahi, the Prime Minister’s Spokeswoman (PMS) said that the Prime Minister and the President shared the view that the decision to release Megrahi was a bad one, and the Prime Minister had asked the Cabinet Secretary to look at whether or not anymore papers relating to the case could be released into the public domain.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought there could be paperwork that wasn’t previously released, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had asked the Cabinet Secretary to make sure that all possible paperwork was out in the public domain.
Asked if the Prime Minister objected to the idea in principle of convicted terrorists being released on compassionate grounds, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had made his views clear about this particular case; he felt that someone who was guilty of one of the worst mass-murders of our time should not be released on compassionate grounds.
Asked if the Prime Minister would encourage Ministers from the previous government to give evidence to the Senate, the PMS said that the Prime Minister would be consulting with members of the previous government, as would be the normal process regarding the release of further documents.
Asked what the procedure would be if the Cabinet Secretary found some more paperwork that needed to be released, the PMS said that all the previous papers were released under FOI, and the Prime Minister had said that he wanted the documents out in the open.
Asked if that meant people should start sending in FOI requests, the PMS said that she wasn’t saying that; we had to wait and see what the process would be.
Put that the Prime Minister laid the blame for Megrahi’s release at the door of the Scottish government and asked if that meant he had not seen any evidence that the British government put pressure on the Scottish government to release Megrahi, the PMS said that is had been a decision for the Scottish government to take. The Prime Minister had said that he disagreed with the decision and had asked for the Cabinet Secretary to look into whether or not more documents could be released, but that didn’t mean that evidence pointed to pressure from the British government.
Asked if there might be a case for examining whether or not devolved issues regarding national importance should be handed over to the British government, the PMS said that there was no argument about who’s right it was to make the decision in this case. There were no plans to review the issue of devolved matters.
Asked if the Prime Minister was disappointed that the Megrahi case had rubbed some of the shine off his visit to the US, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had felt a number of important issues had been discussed, including Afghanistan and our relationship with the US.
Put that the Prime Minister had said in an interview that the aspiration would be to begin withdrawal of UK troops from Afghanistan next year, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had talked about the end of the process and that we didn’t expect combat troops to be in Afghanistan in 2015, and during his interview he had been talking about the start of that process. The Prime Minister was careful to stress that the conditions on the ground dictated the rate of withdrawal; transition was a key part of the withdrawal process, but we would not start setting timetables. There was a strategy in place and we hoped that the start of the withdrawal process could begin as soon as possible.
Put that there was increasing impatience with the war in Afghanistan, the PMS said that there were good things that came out of the Kabul conference this week, including Afghan forces taking responsibility for security in areas of the country this year, and hope that they would be in charge of all the provinces by 2014. Our mission in Afghanistan was clear and it had not changed; we wanted to help the Afghans create a secure country that they would be able to run, but we would not start bringing our troops home until conditions on the ground meant we could.
Put that the US had said that discussing withdrawal dates increased the political pressure on Afghanistan, the PMS said that the political process was a very important part of the strategy in Afghanistan, and the Prime Minister underlined this in his comments yesterday.
Asked if there was renewed hope for Gary McKinnon after discussions with President Obama, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had spoken about this yesterday; it was a very difficult issue but a process was ongoing and it currently laid with the Home Secretary.
Asked what the Prime Minister had to say about reports that the armed forces could be cut by 35,000, the PMS said that this was a speculative story; the Strategic Defence and Security Review was underway and was due to report in the autumn.
Asked if the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister had spoken ahead of PMQs today and if the regular team who helped the Prime Minister prepare for PMQs would be helping the Deputy Prime Minister, the PMS said that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister spoke daily and that she would not get into details on preparation for PMQs.