Briefing by the Prime Minister's Spokesman on: General McChrystal, Budget and G8/G20 summits.
Asked if the UK would get consulted on who was in charge of British troops in Afghanistan and whether the subject was brought up in the Prime Minister’s call with President Obama, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that the subject was raised by the President during the discussion.
They agreed that they were both fully supportive of the current strategy in Afghanistan. The President said that he would continue to consult closely with the Prime Minister. The PMS said that on the specific issue of General McChrystal, these comments were about the US administration and therefore it was a matter for them.
Asked whether the call had already been in the diary before the events surrounding General McChrystal had taken place, the PMS said that the call was going to happen anyway, ahead of the G8 and G20.
Asked whether the Prime Minister believed that replacing General McChrystal would help the war in Afghanistan, the PMS said that that was a hypothetical question.
Put that General McChrystal was in charge of British troops in Afghanistan, the PMS said that it was a NATO strategy, which we supported. The comments were made about the US administration and therefore it was a matter for them.
When asked if the Prime Minister still had faith in General McChrystal, the PMS replied that he would not get drawn on the subject further. It was a matter for the US administration.
Asked whether President Obama would consult with the Prime Minister before any decision was taken on General McChrystal’s future, the PMS said he was not aware of any calls planned. The Prime Minister and the President would be seeing each other this weekend.
On whether the Prime Minister spoke about the Budget to the President, the PMS said that he had done. The Prime Minister had explained the measures that we had taken yesterday.
Asked if the Prime Minister had explained why he was going further and faster than the US, the PMS replied that there was agreement on this issue; different countries would implement policies that were appropriate to them. There was agreement on fiscal consolidation and there was agreement on the need to have policies that supported growth and in particular for surplus countries to do more to promote domestic demand.
Put that in his letter last weekend, the President had said that a credible medium-term fiscal path was to halve the current deficit by 2013, the PMS said that the President had set out that plan for the US. Different countries implemented different fiscal policies. The PMS added that Secretary Geithner had said three weeks ago that he thought that the UK was doing the right thing.
Put that those comments were not relevant as they came before the Budget, the PMS said that the comments were relevant as they reflected the US position. The letter from President Obama also spoke about the need for flexibility and recognised the fact that different countries would implement fiscal policies that were appropriate to them.
On whether the Prime Minister would still think the Budget was “fair” when cuts in tax credits kicked in, in subsequent years, the PMS said that the Prime Minister thought the Budget was “tough but fair.” We had a significant fiscal deficit that needed to be addressed and the measures announced yesterday were designed to do that in a way that shared the burden and made sure people at the higher end of the income scale contributed more.
The PMS said that we had been clear that tax credits were one of the areas that needed to be looked at and we had made some changes so that they were paid less far up the income scale.
Put that housing benefit cuts were very tough, the PMS replied that the housing benefit bill had increased rapidly in recent years and it was a benefit the Government had to get to grips with.
Asked if the Prime Minister accepted that this Budget was a gamble, the PMS replied that there were clear risks in not tackling the deficit. We had seen what had happened in Greece and other areas of Europe and there were significant risks if we did not deal with the deficit effectively.
Put that the Bank of England did not have room to slash rates like the Canadian Central Bank did in the mid 1990’s, the PMS said he would not get into commenting on monetary policy.
Asked what the position was on employees National Insurance Contributions (NICs), the Treasury Spokesman replied that there had been no change on that. They would go up by 1%.
On whether he thought the highest burden would still fall on the richest 10% after 2013 as some of the measures announced would not come into affect until 2013/14, the Treasury Spokesman replied that between now and then, the Government would be overhauling welfare policy. What happened in future years would be informed by that work.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought that Gordon Brown should have been in the House yesterday, the PMS said that whether or not Gordon Brown attended Parliament was a matter for him.
Asked if the subject of Alexander Litvinyenko would be raised in any bilateral with President Medvedev, the PMS advised people to wait for bilaterals to be confirmed before agendas could be discussed.
Asked for the Prime Minister’s hopes for the two summits, the PMS said that the Prime Minister was looking forward to the two meetings. The focus for the G8 would be on international development and how we could reduce the number of women dying in childbirth and how to reduce the number of children dying before their fifth birthday in developing countries. There would also be discussions on foreign policy and security issues.
For the G20, issues such as fiscal consolidation and global growth would be discussed. The Government would keep pushing on steps for structural reform as well as action on trade.
Asked if there would be a bilateral with President Obama on Saturday, the PMS said there would be. Asked if the issue of BP would be raised in the bilateral, the PMS said he expected it to be discussed.