The PMS informed the Lobby that the PM is working from Downing Street today. In other government business, it was announced that Liz Truss is publishing proposals on childcare and Justine Greening will be appearing in front of the International Development Committee on aid to Pakistan.
The PMS provided Lobby with an update on the UK response to the situation in Mali. Three strands to the UK’s efforts were identified:
First: UK assistance to the French Military in Mali. The PMS emphasised that the Prime Minister had been very clear when speaking in Parliament that there would not be a combat role for UK troops - and this position remained entirely unchanged.
Logistical and intelligence support to the French to-date has consisted of the initial use of two C-17’s, the loan of one these aircraft has now been extended for a further three months. In addition, we have provided the French with the use of a RAF surveillance aircraft, Sentinel, which was deployed at the end of last week.
The PMS confirmed that discussions with the French government have been continuing, including through Sir Kim Darroch’s meeting in Paris yesterday. The possible use of a strategic roll-on/roll-off ferry to move vehicles and equipment from France has been discussed. Following confirmation from the French that they would welcome assistance with this sealift capability, we are now exploring that option further with them.
A combined joint logistics headquarters on the ground in Mali was considered as an option during dialogue with the French. At this stage, the French have been very clear that they do not envisage the need to deploy that capability and we are not progressing that at the moment. The PMS stated that the decision, along with all other options would continue to be kept under review in the normal way, but declined to engage in speculation.
The PMS also set out that the government is prepared to consider requests from allies to operate their air-to-air refuelling aircraft out of the UK in support of the military intervention in Mali.
The second strand of the UK response identified by the PMS was the EU training mission in Mali. The PMS confirmed that a force generation conference is taking place in Brussels today as part of the ongoing work to plan for the training mission. Comprising of defence attaches from each of the 27 EU members states, the meeting will discuss the composition of the training mission and individual member state contributions.
The UK has said that we are prepared to contribute up to 40 personnel, in line with the PM’s statement to the House last week. The PMS emphasised that the exact composition of the training force is still being discussed, and the size and role of the British contribution would be determined by the force generation conference. Depending upon contributions other member states are willing or able to make, it could be lower than 40.
The PMS identified the third strand as training other regional militaries through the African Union and AFISMA (African-Led International Support Mission in Mali).
AFISMA is an operation in support of the Malian government, and the PMS explained that it was the Government’s view that, using Somalia as a frame of reference, it was right that regional forces led operations.
The PMS described the UK’s role in supporting AFISMA as being part of international political and economic efforts to promote stability in the region. AFISMA would enhance the capabilities of regional forces to deal with regional security challenges, such as terrorist havens.
The PMS informed Lobby that the UK’s role in this effort is also subject to ongoing discussions, with the African Union meeting today in Addis Ababa. The current offer made by the Government is for up to 200 British military personnel to provide training to troops from Anglophone West African countries, as part of the AFISMA mission. In addition, the UK is offering £5m for two UN trust funds that are directed to supporting the work of AFISMA in the region.
Summarising the UK involvement, the PMS said that the ‘up to 40’ personnel for the EU training mission and the ‘up to 200’ in support of the wider regional training of African Union forces are the main offers of contributions.
The PMS confirmed that there would also be UK personnel deployed with the Sentinel and the C-17. Further questions on operational details were referred to MoD, but the PMS’ understanding was that there can be around 70 personnel deployed with the Sentinel and about 20 personnel with the C-17.
The PMS declined to answer questions on operational deployments and rules of engagements, and referred Lobby to MoD.
Asked about the PM’s views on the issue of boundary changes, the PMS replied that these are well set out but that the PM thinks it is important that it is put before Parliament. Pressed on whether the PM had discussed the issue with the leaders of other political parties, the PMS said political parties are involved in regular contact on a wide range of issues. Further questions were referred to political advisors.
Asked for the PM’s view on the abdication of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, the PMS said it is a matter for Queen Beatrix and the Dutch Royal Family.
In response to questions about Libor, the PMS said that this was a matter for regulators.
The PMS said that the government is disappointed that the Court of Appeal has today found against the Home Office in three cases regarding disclosure of Criminal Records. Further questions were referred to the Home Office.
The PMS said he was not aware of any government proposals on detailing the ethnic mix of staff as part of hiring policies, but referred Lobby to BIS.