Press release

Number 10 Press Briefing - Morning From 30 March 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 and the Police.

Libya

Asked about the prospect of Colonel Gaddafi being given a safe route out of Libya, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that the Foreign Secretary had set out the Government’s position on this yesterday; we thought that Colonel Gaddafi should go. We also believed that people should be held accountable for their actions. The PMS said that we were not engaged in looking for somewhere for Colonel Gaddafi to go, but that did not exclude others from doing so.

Put that there had been reports of the Italian government making discreet contact with the Gaddafi regime and was the UK Government aware of that, the PMS said that that was a matter for the Italians. There were 40 countries and international organisations represented at the conference yesterday and there would be a range of views around the table. What we could do was set out our position.

Asked how the Government could say on the one hand that Colonel Gaddafi should go and on the other that he should be held accountable for his actions, the PMS replied that he did not think the first point necessarily precluded the second.

On what the Government’s position was on arming the rebels, the PMS replied that we had set out our position on this yesterday too. Asked if the Prime Minister thought that it was legal to arm the rebels, the PMS said that the Foreign Secretary had explained the position, saying that the arms embargo applied to the whole of Libya, but UN resolution 1973 might allow equipment to be given to the opposition to defend themselves, in certain  circumstances and in a limited way.

When asked if the Prime Minister was concerned that different countries would have a different interpretation of the resolution, the PMS said that we were setting out our view and the US had set out a similar view yesterday as well.

Put that the Prime Minister had said previously that the resolution did not allow the arming of rebel groups, the PMS replied that he had said the arms embargo applied to the whole of Libya and our view on that had not changed. There was a discussion going on in the House and publicly about technical and legal questions relating to the issue of arming rebels. The PMS said that we would not comment on the Government’s legal advice but our view was as set out by the Foreign Secretary yesterday; the resolution may allow equipment to be given to people to defend themselves in certain circumstances in a limited way.

Put that the arms embargo applied to the whole of Libya, the PMS said that that was still the case. The PMS added that resolution 1973 made very clear that countries could take all necessary steps to protect civilians. It might be possible to arm opposition groups, but it would need to be very clear that the action supported the objective of the resolution, namely to protect civilians.

Put that the Prime Minister had not revealed that information in his statement on the 18th March, which suggested that the legal advice had changed, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister’s statement on the 18th March remained an accurate statement.

Asked if this argument was being put forward now to force Colonel Gaddafi to go, the PMS replied that MPs had been debating this point in the House; the Government was being asked this question and it was giving its view. Asked if the UN would convey the same message, the PMS replied that we had been asked our view and we had given it.

Asked if the Attorney General had been asked to give further guidance or advice on resolution 1973, the PMS said that he would not want to comment on what legal advice was being given by the Attorney General.

Put that the Government had given a summary of the Attorney General’s advice the first time round, the PMS replied that we had provided a note on the legal position to inform the debate in the House. We would not break the convention of the Government being able to receive confidential legal advice and we would not be commenting on every bit of legal advice we received.

Asked if the Attorney General had provided further legal advice and if so would a note be made available, the PMS replied that the reason for giving the original note was to inform the debate in the House.

On whether any consideration had been given to supplying arms to the opposition forces, the PMS said that as the Foreign Secretary had said yesterday, we had not taken a decision on whether to do that.

Asked how the use of any such weapons could be tracked, the PMS replied that there were legal and practical questions that would need to be answered in such circumstances.

On whether Britain or its allies felt comfortable in giving weapons to opposition groups that the UK Government had had contact with so far, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had met representatives of the INC yesterday; they had set out very clearly their aims, which was to have a transition to a more open and democratic Libya. The PMS said that those views were ones we could agree with.

Asked if the discussions that had taken place had given the Government cause for reassurance, the PMS replied that we were in the process of speaking to these people and learning more about their intentions.

On whether the Prime Minister gave any credence to reports that opposition groups had links to al Qaida, the PMS said that the representatives had set out their position yesterday and that did not suggest any extremist agenda. We were in the process of engaging with these people and learning more about them and their intentions.

Asked if the international community still believed that the Libyan regime had mustard gas, the PMS replied that we did believe that. Asked if it was reckless to bomb weapons facilities if mustard gas could be present, the PMS replied that it was his understanding that it was not weaponised and was held in a secure facility in the desert.

Police

Asked if the Prime Minister accepted that police forces were having to make cuts to frontline officers, the PMS replied that the Policing Minister had been setting out the Government’s position on this this morning.