Press release

Number 10 Press Briefing - Morning From 21 March 2011

From the Prime Minister's spokesperson on: Libya, Strategic Defence and Security Review and MPs' pay.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


The Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) began by informing members of the lobby that the Prime Minister had spoken to the Arab League (AL) Secretary General, Amr Moussa this morning.  The Prime Minister set out the action we were taking to implement the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 (UNSCR 1973), which was aimed at protecting the civilian population in Libya.  The Prime Minister explained that current activity targeting Libya’s air defences was aimed at allowing the subsequent operation of a no-fly zone (NFZ).  The Prime Minister stressed the care we were taking with targeting to avoid civilian casualties.  The two leaders agreed that the protection of civilians was paramount.  Amr Moussa welcomed the update and said he supported the UNSCR 1973.  The Prime Minister concluded that they were on ‘the same page’.

The PMS went on to say that the Prime Minister had also been staying in touch with a range of other partners including President Sarkozy, Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

Asked who was in command of the military operation, the PMS said that it was under US command.  There was UK involvement at every level and there was close coordination with the French and a range of other countries.

Asked how much longer it would be under US command, the PMS said that we were having discussions with our partners about the next phase of the military operation.

Put that the UK didn’t seem to be keen to take command, the PMS said that it was fair to say that the UK saw NATO as the main means of coordinating military activity and we wanted to make sure we had effective arrangements so as we were acting in concert with partners, including regional partners.

Asked what the Prime Minister had discussed with Prime Minister Erdogan, the PMS said that he would not get into providing a running commentary of all the conversations the Prime Minister had with his counterparts.

Asked about Amr Moussa’s comments expressing concern that airstrikes could target civilians in Libya, the PMS said that he had already spoken about the Prime Minister’s phone call with Amr Moussa this morning.  The Foreign Secretary had also spoken to Amr Moussa yesterday, which he had spoken about during interviews this morning.

Put that Amr Moussa seemed to be saying different things in Arabic, the PMS said that his understanding was that Amr Moussa had been out this morning saying that he supported UNSCR 1973.  He was clearly concerned about civilian casualties, as we were, which was demonstrated by the decision taken by our pilots last night.

Asked if there was concern that the UK was in a different place to our regional partners, the PMS said that we had been very conscious of the need to involve Arab leaders and Arab nations at every step in this process, which we had seen happen.  For example, UNSCR 1973 followed, and was based on a statement from the AL; the meeting in Paris at the weekend involved a number of Arab leaders; and both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary continued to stay in close touch with the leaders of Arab nations.

Put that the US Secretary for Defence had said this morning that targeting Gaddafi personally would be unwise, the PMS said that he would not be commenting on operational details or military targets.  The Foreign Secretary had made clear this morning that our military objective was to implement UNSCR 1973.

Asked if UK forces would go in to Libya to help the rebels, the PMS said that the Foreign Secretary answered that question this morning: we were clear that there would not be an invasion of Libya and that UNSCR 1973 said that there should be no occupying force.  The Foreign Secretary had said this morning that in order to extract British nationals from the desert three weeks ago we had sent forces in from the RAF, and it would be foolish to exclude all possibilities, but UNSCR 1973 stated clearly that there would be no occupying force, and our actions were determined by that resolution.

Asked if it was possible that Gaddafi would still be in power at the end of this process, the PMS said that our political position for some time had been that Gaddafi should step down.  We would like to see a transition to a more democratic and open society, but ultimately these matters were for the Libyan people.  In terms of military activity it was clear that our aim was to implement UNSCR 1973. 

Asked if there had been clear consensus at the Paris meeting on Saturday that UNSCR 1973 had been breached, the PMS said that there was a clear consensus on the action we were taking, and UNSCR 1973 underpinned that.

Asked if there had been Arab opposition at the meeting in Paris, the PMS said that we had worked very hard throughout this process with Arab countries and Arab leaders to ensure that they were involved every step of the way.  UNSCR 1973 was based on the AL statement that came out the weekend before.

Asked if there was work ongoing with other Arab countries to get them involved in military action, the PMS referred the journalist to the Ministry of Defence in terms of operational questions, but more generally we were continuing to work closely with a range of partners in the region.

Asked where the money was coming from to finance this military operation, the PMS said that it was best to speak to the Treasury but it was a bit too early to be talking about cost.

Asked if UNSCR 1973 made clear that we were also protecting the people in Tripoli from the rebels in Benghazi, the PMS said that UNSCR 1973 stated that the aim was to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under attack.  We were responding to the oppression of civilians in Libya by the Gaddafi regime.

Asked if the military action was solidifying support for Gaddafi, the PMS said that the military action was necessary to achieve the aims set out in UNSCR 1973.  We were doing what we considered necessary in order to establish a NFZ and protect civilians.

Asked what the Prime Minister made of Gaddafi’s comments that the situation in Libya was a case of crusaders versus Muslims, the PMS said that he was not going to get into the habit of commenting on every utterance from Gaddafi and his regime.  We had been clear in recent days that we would judge him and the regime on actions, not words.

Asked if the Government had been in talks with opposition figures in Libya, the PMS said that that work was ongoing and was being lead by the Foreign Office staff who worked at the Embassy in Tripoli.

Asked if there were any figures stating how many people had been killed since the passing of UNSCR 1973, the PMS said that he didn’t have any figures that he could give out, but information had been put out by the media and human rights organisations.

Asked when the Prime Minister had last spoken to President Obama, the PMS said that they had last spoken on Thursday night.

Put that that seemed strange given the ongoing mild tensions between our Defence Secretary and the US Defence Secretary, the PMS said that he didn’t think it was strange; we were coordinating and cooperating very closely with the US administration.  Our national security advisers and military were in constant touch and the Prime Minister had met with Secretary of State Clinton on Saturday. 

Asked how open-ended our military commitment in Libya was, the PMS said that he was not going to speculate about the future.  Our objective was to implement UNSCR 1973.

Strategic Defence and Security Review

Asked if the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) provided the flexibility needed in future operations, the PMS said that the SDSR was about ensuring that we had the right kind of forces for the future looking ahead to 2020.  We were now starting to implement the SDSR.

Put that there had been a call for the Government to reopen the SDSR, the PMS said that the analysis that underpinned the SDSR was that we were facing a much more uncertain future and that we needed to plan for our armed forces to be more flexible and adaptable for that uncertain future.  If we were to undertake that analysis again today we would find that recent events underlined that position.

MPs’ Pay

Asked what advice the Prime Minister would give to MPs when they voted on their pay today, the PMS said that there should be a pay freeze for MPs and that’s what they should be voting for.

Published 21 March 2011