Asked if the Foreign Secretary had admitted to severe intelligence failures during Cabinet and whether the Education Secretary had criticised the Foreign Office for their response to the situation in Libya, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman told the assembled press that he would not be going into a great deal of detail about Cabinet discussions. The PMS said the Cabinet discussion he had sat in on was very much an update on the situation in Libya, as well as next steps in terms of humanitarian efforts.
The PMS said he thought it was reasonable to say that there weren’t a lot of people who had predicted the recent events in that region and what happened next was also very uncertain.
On whether the Cabinet agreed about what the next steps should be, the PMS said absolutely. We had a very clear policy that had been set out by the Prime Minister over the last few days; get British nationals out, step up international diplomatic efforts to put pressure on the regime, step up humanitarian efforts and continue to plan for all eventualities.
Asked if there was an agreement on looking at a no-fly zone, the PMS said that there was complete agreement on the way we approached this. There had been a number of COBRA and NSC meetings and a lot of work going on across Whitehall.
On whether the CDS had reported back on no-fly zones, the PMS replied that work was ongoing on all of these issues. Asked if there were a number of interpretations on how a no-fly zone could be put in place, the PMS said that there were a number of ways that this could be implemented if that situation was to arise.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought Robert Gibbs’s comments of there being a lot of ‘loose talk’ around no-fly zones was directed at him, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had set out his position in the House yesterday; all Governments had a duty to think about all eventualities and prepare for them.
When asked if there had been a conversation between No10 and the White House on the issue, the PMS said that he was not aware of any specific conversation on those comments. We were in close touch with colleagues in the US at the present time as people would expect.
On whether the Prime Minister agreed with Robert Gates that there had been too much talk of no-fly zones, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had been very clear about this; Governments should think about all eventualities. The PMS added that the UK Government was asking the right questions and doing the right work and that would involve discussions with international colleagues.
Questioned about when the CDS would report back to the Prime Minister, the PMS said that there was work ongoing on all the issues, but we would not be announcing when particular papers arrived at particular meetings.
Put that there seemed to be an urgent need for a no-fly zone on the ground in Libya and shouldn’t such work be carried out with more urgency, the PMS replied that he would not be setting out to the media when specific work had been completed. There was a large amount of work being done across Whitehall and that was being considered on a daily basis by COBRA and when the NSC met.
Put that it was claimed today that Liam Fox had said on Tuesday that he simply did not have the resources to carry out what the Prime Minister had been hinting at, the PMS said that the Prime Minister was questioned on the subject of resources yesterday in the Commons and he had given an answer.
Asked what the other options being considered were, the PMS said that we were spending a lot of time working diplomatically and working with international bodies and partners. The focus of activity at the moment were the Government’s diplomatic and humanitarian efforts and that was why the Foreign Secretary was in Paris meeting his French counterpart and why Andrew Mitchell was in Tunisia to see for himself the action we were taking on the ground to get people out of the country.
Asked what the Prime Minister made of Hugo Chavez’s offer to the Arab League to broker a deal, the PMS said that Hugo Chavez had made some specific suggestions in regard to Colonel Gaddafi and we had already made our position clear in that regard.
Asked if the Prime Minister was aware that Britain was embarrassingly isolated on the issue of no-fly zones, the PMS replied that what we had been making clear was that this was sensible contingency planning.
When asked about securing Libya’s stockpile of Mustard gas, the PMS said that we were looking at a range of options and he would not be getting into any more details.
Asked if any solution involving partition was still unacceptable to the UK, the PMS replied that we had said in a number of cases in recent weeks, this was ultimately an issue for the people of that country and what was an acceptable outcome must be judged by them and not us.
Asked if any peace deal with Gaddafi would be acceptable, the PMS said that we believed that he had lost credibility and authority in Libya and we found it very difficult to see a solution that involved him staying.
When asked about British business interests in Libya and the fact that British companies had a lot of their kit in the country, the PMS replied that he did not have details. Asked if the Prime Minister had had any meetings on the subject, the PMS replied he did not think so. The PMS said that he expected companies to have been in contact with various parts of the Government, including BIS and the Foreign Office.
Asked if the Prime Minister would step up the frequency of his chats with President Obama, the PMS said he imagined the Prime Minister would be speaking to him soon on developments, but the timing of those calls depended on whether there was something that needed to be discussed.
Asked if the Prime Minister was pleased that Rupert Murdoch had been given the go ahead for the takeover, the PMS said the Culture Secretary had set out his decision and the Prime Minister had no role in that process; he was not aware of the Culture Secretary’s decision before it was made and announced.
Asked if he knew when the Prime Minister had last spoken to Rupert Murdoch, the PMS replied that he did not know.
When asked if the Prime Minister thought Rupert Murdoch paid his fair share of tax in this country, the PMS said that we did not discuss the affairs of individual taxpayers. The PMS added that this was clearly a matter for Jeremy Hunt and he would be setting out in a statement to the House, the reasons for his decision.
Asked about reports in the media this morning about the Government abandoning the City, the PMS said that we wanted to see a successful and strong financial services sector in this country. We needed to respond to what we had seen in the last few years and we were strengthening our regulatory regime, as all other countries were.
Asked about reports on Eastern European nationals being able to claim benefits and whether that undermined the Government’s wider policy on immigration, the PMS replied that this was a story relating to a decision taken eight years ago. The PMS said that the restrictions that had been put in place now had to be lifted and that was also happening in Germany and Austria. The Government would apply transitional controls on new EU member states.
Asked what the Government’s position would be when Turkey joined the EU, the PMS said that for new EU member states, we would apply transitional arrangements.
On whether the Government was frustrated with the hand it had been dealt, the PMS replied that it depended on what the outcome of the changes was. Germany and Austria would also be in the same position and it was not necessarily the case that this would result in substantial migration into the UK.
Asked what the cost impact would be, the PMS replied that in the European Union, British nationals were able to claim benefits in other countries and that was the same for nationals of other countries in the UK.