Press briefing: morning 3 March 2014
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Prime Minister’s Spokesperson (PMS) answered questions on Ukraine, Nigella Lawson, the Hammersmith flyover, flooding and radicalisation.
Asked if there were any circumstances where the UK could tolerate Crimea staying in Russian hands, for example if there were to be a referendum, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) pointed to the Foreign Secretary’s words that morning and said that the sovereignty of the Ukraine has been violated. The UK wanted Russia to recognise that sovereignty and territorial integrity. He added that the future of the Ukraine should be a matter for the Ukrainian people. The UK wanted Russia to move back from the position where it had effective control of the Crimean region.
Asked if there would be a Statement on Ukraine and main focus of the National Security Council (NSC) meeting, the PMS said he would expect the Foreign Secretary to make a statement the following day.
On the NSC meeting, the PMS said it would be an opportunity for the PM and others to get the latest update on the situation in the Crimean peninsular, the latest discussions that were going on amongst European and G7 partners and to discuss how the UK would continue working very closely with international partners.
Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with Sajid Javid and Nick Boles that there was a direct link to the Syria vote, the PMS said that the PM had set out his views on the vote and the leader of the opposition’s approach in that vote at the time of the vote.
Put that there was to be a referendum later that month, and asked whether the PM would support the Ukraine were it to vote for independence, would PM support that, the PMS said that there were a range of questions with regard to the Ukraine but the key was for the way forward to be resolved through peaceful and diplomatic means and the first step towards achieving that was around the importance of there being political dialogue.
Asked if the PM, from conversations with Putin, believed he was fully aware of consequences of his actions or shared the view of Merkel that Putin was not on this planet, the PMS said that when the PM spoke to Putin and when the Foreign Secretary spoke to his counterpart, they had been very clear at explaining that there would be significant costs to Russian actions. He added that the government was working with international partners to be very clear about the costs that Russia would face. We had already seen the cancellation of the G8 preparatory meetings and a first step in that.
Asked if the government was minded to push for a UN resolution and whether the UK had ruled out a military response, the PMS said that the only avenue being pursued was a diplomatic and peaceful one. It was right for the UK to push for there to be a discussion at the UNSC. One of the areas in which the UN might be able to play a role was facilitating political dialogue.
Asked if the Treasury would be represented at the NSC and whether there would be a discussion around freezing Russian assets, the PMS said that the Chancellor would be attending. On costs that Russia would incur, those were to be decided upon, working with G7 and others.
Asked whether the PM believed that Nick Boles and Sajid Javid were right to speak out, the PMS again referred to the views the PM had set out at the time of the vote.
Asked about the significant costs, and whether the PM agreed with john Kerry that they could include asset freezes, visa restrictions and trade arrangements, the PMS said that when it came to the next steps on what the costs might be, the right thing was for there to be discussions with G7 partners and alike, discussions were on-going and he wasn’t going to pre-empt those discussions.
Put that the US was being more belligerent and using specific threats, the PMS pointed the assembled press to the to the G7 statement issued the previous night. He added that the Foreign Secretary was clear that there would be significant costs. It was important that the international community continued to work together. There were meetings going on in Brussels and further G7 consultations going on, but the Foreign Secretary said those costs were to be decided upon but was clear they would happen unless Russia showed that it respected Ukrainian sovereignty and independence.
Asked if Russia been told what those specific costs were, the PMS said that detailed discussions were going on with international partners and we were being clear to the Russian government that those costs would happen.
Asked how he would characterise the PM’s relationship with Putin, the PMS said that they had always had the kind of relationship where they sought to work together, recognising that there were areas where it was important that we and other members of the international community worked together with Russia but also recognising there were areas where we took very different approaches and where we set out our differences very robustly and disagree extremely strongly.
Asked if the PM had any response from Russia over the cancellation of G8 meetings and whether the PM thought the action of the Russian had ruined Paralympic Games, the PMS said he had not seen a Russia statement with regard to the G8 meetings. On the Paralympic Games, they were one of the ways that Russia was under the international spotlight.
Put that it wasn’t having much effect, the PMS said we wanted a peaceful outcome and the right way to go about it was to seek de-escalation but to be very clear about the significant costs that would be incurred if the sovereign and independent rights of the Ukraine were not respected. The Foreign Secretary had been very clear that significant costs would happen. The decision the PM had taken about UK Ministers not attending the Paralympic Games was part of that very clear message.
Asked if the Energy Secretary was attending the NSC meeting, the PMS said he didn’t believe he was.
Asked if the PM was concerned about the energy implications and the gas market, the PMS said he thought that the focus was rightly on the response to situation in Ukraine and the costs that would be incurred to Russia if it continued on its current course.
Asked if the concern about gas prices across Europe was a reason that the government was taking a different tone to US, the PMS said he didn’t accept the premise of the question. He pointed to the G7 statement the previous night and how the Foreign Secretary had been clear that significant costs would be incurred.
Asked about the cost of energy and the impact on the UK and whether the UK was prepared to pay a price, the PMS said the government had been setting out our opposition to the course that the Russian authorities had taken and that they would face significant costs if they continued with that course.
Asked if the Foreign Secretary was going to Moscow, the PMS said the Foreign Secretary would be returning to give an update to the House the following day.
Asked whether the government was looking at contingency plans on gas, the PMS said that he wouldn’t go further than plans the industry already had in place for disruption in supply. There were longstanding measures in place.
Asked who the government was planning to send to the Paralympics and would the government would consider asking Paralympians to boycott, the PMS said Helen Grant and Mike Penning were planning on going. He added that the UK had set out the message, and it was a political one rather than sporting one.
Asked about a Contact Group, the PMS said we wanted to find ways to encourage a political dialogue between both sides and would want to explore all the ways in which that might be done. For example the there were suggestions that the OSCE may have a role.
Asked if an economic response was not being considered, the PMS referred the assembled press to the significant costs that were being discussed.
Asked if the UK still stood by the 94 Memorandum, the PMS confirmed it did.
Put that a PR for Saatchi had said someone from Number 10 had approached the Met saying Nigella should not be prosecuted, the PMS said that decisions around prosecutions were wholly a matter for the prosecuting authorities.
Put that the Mayor of London had announced he wanted to spend up to £1.7 billion to turn the Hammersmith Flyover into a Flyunder, the PMS referred the assembled press to the DfT and the Mayor’s Office.
Asked who was now in charge of the flood response, the PMS said that each department’s Secretary of State led on responsibilities for their area.
Asked if people should expect to see Owen Paterson out in wellies, the PMS said that he would be in the House of Commons on Thursday giving an update on the lessons learned from the floods.
Asked if the PM agreed with Boris Johnson that children at risk of radicalisation should be taken away from parents, the PMS said that when it came to individual decisions around taking children into care, those would of course be decisions for the courts.
He added that the through the Prevent Strategy we wanted all agencies to be working together, local authorities and central government, and that it was important that there was a multi-agency approach to dealing with the issue and risks around radicalisation.
Put that the courts operate within guidelines set by government, the PMS said that individual decisions were for the courts but like all areas, these things were always kept under review.