Press release

Number 10 Press Briefing: morning from 28 February 2011

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

From the Prime Minister's spokesperson on: Libya.

Libya

Asked if the Prime Minister would address the possibility of any military action including no-fly zones during his statement this afternoon, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that people would need to wait for the Prime Minister’s statement. He had set out yesterday that our focus had been getting British nationals out of Libya in recent days and our focus now would shift to exerting pressure on the regime through the use of sanctions. 

The PMS added that we were working with international partners to see what the next steps should be; we had a clear objective and thought it was time for Colonel Gadaffi to go. 

Asked if we would be providing extra help to Tunisia, the PMS said there was clearly a lot going on in the region at the present time. We were reviewing the region as a whole and monitoring events in a number of countries. There had been COBRA and National Security Council meetings in the past few days and we were turning our attention to the wider region and making sure we had the necessary arrangements in place. 

Put that there seemed to be confusion over the numbers of British people still in Libya and would the Government consider using military planes more quickly in the region in future, the PMS replied that for the numbers we were reliant on people telling the Government that they were in Libya, as well as people informing the Government when they had left Libya under their own steam. 

The PMS said we were focussed on the small number of British nationals who we were in contact with and who wanted to get out. In terms of military planes and the region as a whole, the PMS said that we would have to assess the situation as it presented itself to us. The PMS said that we would not necessarily say a military route or civilian route was the correct course of action in advance of something happening. 

The PMS added that as the Foreign Secretary had made clear, we would be reviewing the approach we had taken in the past, which was to try and make sure civilian flights continued to run out of countries. We were reviewing that and seeing if any lessons could be learnt. 

Asked if the Prime Minister still had full confidence in the Foreign Secretary, the PMS said yes. On whether taking a Special Adviser to the pub last Wednesday when contingency planning was taking place was the best use of the Defence Secretary’s time, the PMS advised people to speak to the MOD on the matter. We had been presented with a complicated, fast moving situation in recent days and we had been working hard to do what we could to get British nationals home. As people had seen over the weekend, we had made significant progress. 

When asked what the Government’s position was on no-fly zones, the PMS said that at the moment we were considering all the options. Asked if the UK had ruled out participation in no-fly zones, the PMS reiterated that we were considering all the options. 

Asked for a cost estimate for the airlifts, the PMS said he did not know. 

On whether the Prime Minister had spoken to Tony Blair, the PMS said that the British Government had been in contact with Tony Blair in recent days. There was also some official support from the FCO and DfID for Tony Blair in his role as envoy. 

Asked if a safe haven plan had been ruled out, the PMS replied that he would not comment on specifics; whatever we did next, we would need to work with international partners. We were considering a range of options at present to exert pressure on the regime. 

Asked if Tony Blair’s contributions had been helpful, the PMS said that we were looking at a range of options to exert pressure on the regime and any way we could do that was useful. 

On whether the Government had been in contact with Lord Mandelson or Gordon Brown, the PMS said that the British Government had been in contact with Tony Blair. 

Asked if the Government was concerned that Colonel Gadaffi still had supplies of Mustard Gas, the PMS said that we were concerned about Colonel Gadaffi and what he might do, which was why we were focussed on putting pressure on that regime to remove him. The PMS said he did not think it would be helpful to speculate on what may or may not happen. 

Asked if it was the Government’s view that the Libyan people should be the ones to get rid of the Colonel Gadaffi, rather than outside governments, the PMS said that we had said throughout recent weeks that it was important for all countries to respond to and meet the aspirations of their people. 

Put that we did not know whether the regime had supplies of chemical weapons or the means to use them, the PMS replied that it was a complicated situation and therefore any information was imperfect, but we had to be alive to a number of possibilities. As we had seen through the actions of Colonel Gadaffi and the regime in recent days, we were right to be concerned about what they might do next. 

Put that Libyan opposition parties did not want outside interference and had the UK Government spoken to members of opposition parties, the PMS replied that it was a complicated situation and he was sure discussions were taking place, but what we would be doing was working with international partners. 

Asked about Special Forces involvement and whether they were still on stand-by, the PMS advised people to speak to the MOD. 

Asked if the Government had contingency plans in case oil went over $200 a barrel for instance, the PMS replied that he would not predict what could happen to oil prices. What was happening to the oil and global commodity prices now was having an impact on domestic inflation. The job of dealing with that and responding to it in the correct way was for the Bank of England. 

On whether foreign governments were contributing to the cost of air lifts, the PMS said he did not have the detail on costs, but he added it was quite good if the plane coming in left when it was full.