Asked about potential cuts to the defence budget in light of comments made General Sir Peter Wall, the PMS said all Whitehall departments, including the Ministry of Defence (MoD), were negotiating final financial settlements with the Treasury. He said a final decision on the defence budget had yet to be made and the government was seeking to find genuine efficiencies while protecting frontline capabilities and military manpower. He said the MoD’s planning assumptions in April was of a 1% increase in their equipment budget. Asked a follow up question, the PMS said the Prime Minister’s view was that the important thing was to negotiate the right financial settlement for 2015/16 and when it came to defence spending, he repeated that the priority was to find general efficiencies while protecting frontline capabilities and military manpower. He said the Prime Minister would encourage everyone involved to continue working towards a successful financial settlement and the Treasury would provide updates when agreements had been reached.
Asked whether Britain would arm the Syrian opposition in light of the US’s decision to provide military aid, the PMS said the British government welcomed the candid assessment of the US and the UK shared their view that there were growing levels of information about chemical weapons being used by the Syrian regime. The PMS made the point that no decisions had been taken and the British government was continuing discussions with international partners. He said the government had always been clear that the priority remained for a political transition in Syria. He said the government had presented evidence of the use of chemical weapons in Syria to the United Nations.
Asked what the Prime Minister would say to President Putin about Syria during a meeting that weekend, the PMS said the Prime Minister would continue to set out the British position on Syria and the importance of reaching a peaceful political transition. He said they would also discuss tax, trade and transparency as part of the G8 agenda.
Asked if the Prime Minister disapproved of Russia supplying the Assad government with arms, the PMS said it was no secret that Russia had been a long-term ally of the Syrian regime and had provided arms and other assistance. When meeting President Putin, the Prime Minister would continue to press for a political transition in Syria.
Asked if the British government supported America’s decision, the PMS said the US had raised a number of different scenarios and the UK had always been clear that this was a complex issue that was being discussed as a matter of urgency, but he reiterated that no decision had yet been taken.
Asked whether the Americans alone would provide military support, the PMS repeated that Syria was a complex problem, but clearly the use of chemical weapons goes against international laws and urgent discussions were ongoing with international partners. He confirmed the Prime Minister would be speaking over the phone to President Obama later that day.
Asked about the use of chemical weapons, the PMS said this was clearly a breach of international laws. He reiterated that it was a complex problem and urgent talks with international partners were continuing.
Asked if Syria would dominate the agenda of the G8 Summit, the PMS said it was clearly a very important issue but there were a number of other issues such as tax, trade and transparency which would also be discussed.
Asked if the agenda had been derailed, the PMS said the Prime Minster was clear about the need for the international community to come together to tackle the problem and the need for a political transition in Syria.
Asked if the British government would support a limited no-fly zone, the PMS said the government had always been clear that nothing was off the table but clearly there were important discussions ongoing and no decisions had been taken on what the next steps would be with regards to fulfilling the Prime Minister’s priority of a political transition.
Asked why the Prime Minister was so concerned by Syria, he said the Prime Minister’s view was that if you looked at the conduct of the Assad regime, the numbers of innocent people killed thus far and the fact chemical weapons had been used, this backed his priority to try and get the international community together to move to a political transition in Syria.
Asked if the government had told airlines not to allow Edward Snowden to fly to the UK, the PMS said the government did not comment on individual immigration cases.
Asked why Paul Tucker was leaving the Bank of England, the PMS said this would be a matter for Mr Tucker.