Briefing by the Prime Minister's Spokesman on: BP oil leak and child benefit.
BP Oil Leak
Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with Boris Johnson’s comments and whether there were any plans for the Prime Minister to speak to Tony Hayward, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that the Chancellor spoke to Tony Hayward yesterday and currently there were no plans for the Prime Minister to speak to him.
In terms of the comments made by Boris Johnson on anti-British sentiment, the PMS said that the Foreign Secretary had spoken on this yesterday and had said that he could find no evidence of anti-British rhetoric.
On what kind of conversations had taken place between the UK and US on BP, the PMS said that there had been conversations at official level, as well as between the company and the UK Government, through the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
Asked for any more detail on the phone conversation that would take place between the Prime Minister and President Obama, the PMS replied that she would not preclude the conversation, but BP would be one of the issues, as well as Iran, the Prime Minister’s visit to Afghanistan and the upcoming G8 and G20 summits.
Put that the Chancellor’s comments yesterday differed from those given in lobby yesterday, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister’s view remained the same; he entirely understood the frustration and anger around what was an environmental tragedy.
Put that the Deputy Prime Minister had spoken of “tit-for-tat” diplomacy this morning, the PMS said that she would not get into commenting on what the Deputy Prime Minister was alluding to in those remarks. The Prime Minister had made his view clear and was looking forward to his call with the President tomorrow.
Asked whether the Prime Minister agreed with John Napier’s comments, the PMS said that the Prime Minister wouldn’t comment on others’ comments. The Prime Minister’s view was clear and he was looking forward to his call with President Obama.
When asked for details of the official conversations taking place between the UK and the US, the PMS said it was not her role to talk about conversations between officials. Through DECC, we had offered assistance to BP, but ultimately a solution needed to be found by the company to this ongoing situation.
Asked if the Prime Minister or UK officials would correct some of the information given out by the US administration such as the claim that this was the largest oil spill, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister’s focus and the focus of the US administration was to seek a solution to this terrible environmental tragedy and it was for BP to sort the problem out.
Asked if the Prime Minister had a view on the economic impact the situation could have, the PMS referred people to the Chancellor’s comments yesterday who recognised the fact that not only was there an environmental impact but also a clear human impact as well. The Chancellor had said that people should remember the economic value that BP brings to people both in Britain and America.
On what kind of topics relating to BP the Prime Minister would discuss with President Obama, the PMS said that she was unable to give any detail on what they may or may not speak about.
Asked why the Government was offering help to BP when it was a profitable company dealing with an oil spill 5000 miles away, the PMS advised people to speak to DECC who had offered some technical assistance.
When asked who the Government’s “point person” was on the situation, the PMS replied that in terms of ongoing conversations with the company it was the Energy Minister, but the Prime Minister was of course being kept informed as the incident progressed. And the Chancellor had most recently had a conversation with the company.
Asked if Energy Minister Charles Hendry was the one person leading on this, the PMS confirmed that Charles Hendry had had conversations with the company and officials in DECC were in contact with BP. Asked when the Prime Minister last spoke to the Energy Minister, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had regular conversations with members of his Cabinet and his Ministers.
On whether it was appropriate for a Junior Minister to lead on such an important issue, the PMS replied that it was entirely appropriate for the Energy Minister to have conversations with an energy company.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought he should have been more robust in dealing with the American administration on this, the PMS said that the Government had a very good relationship with the US administration. The Prime Minister had made it clear that he entirely understood the frustrations that this tragedy had provoked. The important thing was for BP to sort out the problem.
Asked if this topic had been discussed at any Cabinet meetings, the PMS said that readouts of Cabinets were provided and she was not aware of this topic coming up. Put that there had been no formal coordination in terms of diplomatic and economic considerations, the PMS said that DECC was the right department to be dealing with an energy company, but this did not mean they were exclusively dealing with the situation. The Chancellor had had a conversation with Tony Hayward and the Prime Minister was being kept up to date.
Asked if the Foreign Secretary had been kept up to date, the PMS said that he had commented on this yesterday and had been kept up to date on the situation.
On what the tone of the call between the Prime Minister and the President would be, the PMS replied that it would be statesmanlike and workmanlike. Asked when the two last spoke, the PMS said it was the 11th May.
Asked if the President might be tempted to “kick asses”, the PMS said that she would not get into commenting on what President Obama had said. Asked if there might be a moment for “a touch of frankness” during the call, the PMS said that she would not preclude the conversation.
When asked if this would be a routine conversation or more of an urgent conversation, the PMS replied that it would be a routine conversation and said issues that would likely be discussed were Iran, Afghanistan, G8 and G20 as well as BP.
Asked if the phone call was scheduled before President Obama had made his comments or after, the PMS said she would not get into when diaries had been set up, but this was the start of routine conversations between the Prime Minister and President Obama.
Asked if the US should look at the regulatory system in the North Sea and the safety record there, the PMS advised people to speak to DECC on that.
Asked if the Prime Minister regretted not picking up the phone earlier, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had confidence that the members of his Cabinet and the Ministers he’d appointed were having the appropriate conversations and focussing on the issues at hand. Put that no UK Ministers had spoken to their US counterparts, the PMS said that the Secretary of State for Energy had discussed the situation with Secretary Chu.
Asked whether Jeremy Heywood had played a part in the official contact between the UK and US, the PMS said that Jeremy Heywood was certainly aware and across the issues, but she would not confirm what conversations he had had.
Asked if the Government had any plans to means-test child benefit, the PMS advised people to wait for the outcome to Frank Field’s review, but any decisions on tax were a matter for the Chancellor in the Budget.
Asked if Frank Field’s review covered child benefit, the PMS said that the remit had been set out. Asked what the timescale of the review was, the PMS said she believed it was six months.