The economy and Eurozone, the Jubilee, Baroness Warsi and benefits for the elderly were among topics discussed at this press briefing.
Asked whether the PM and Obama discussed anything concrete on the Euro during their phone conversation, the Prime Minister’s Spokeswoman (PMS) said they discussed general issues regarding the Eurozone following up from G8 and looking ahead to the G20. Asked whether, if they talked about an ‘immediate plan’, that suggests there is a new plan on the table, the PMS said there are some immediate issues in the Eurozone that need to be sorted and that has been said all along. The PM has discussed at length what he thinks those issues are and how they should be addressed. Asked what are the immediate issues for the Eurozone are, she said if you look back to what he’s been saying all along, Europe must take the necessary steps to underpin a successful and stable Eurozone. This means they must build an effective firewall; ensure their banks are well capitalised; create fiscal burden sharing and active supportive monetary policy across the Eurozone. When it was put to her that these issues have been immediate for the last year or so and the use of the word immediate suggests something new, the PMS said the issues still need to be sorted out and our views haven’t changed on that. Discussions are ongoing but the PM has been clear about what’s really required. Asked whether the long term concerns of the PM are now becoming immediate and why, the PMS said the PM has always been very clear that the Eurozone needs to act decisively and put in place robust contingencies. In terms of what needs to be done to underpin the Eurozone, he’s been clear from the outset what those issues are.
Asked if the PM is going to use his meeting with Merkel tomorrow to stress urgency, the PMS said all leaders in the Eurozone understand the urgency and need for confidence in the markets. She said she would not speculate on what discussions will be. Asked whether it is the PM’s view that he would like to see a routemap of his Manchester speech agreed for the G20 and European leaders to agree it at the next summit, she said clearly Eurozone issues are for Eurozone leaders to decide. The PM has clearly set out his views as whatever happens there has an impact on Britain. We want to protect our interests and ensure the single market is completed. She said she would not predict what will go on in various meetings but clearly Eurozone issues are for Eurozone leaders; the PM has set out what his views are and no doubt the Eurozone will be discussed at the G20; and that’s what was touched on during phone call with Obama. Asked whether President Obama was in agreement with the PM that these steps do need to be taken to save/strengthen the Eurozone, the PMS said the PM’s view has always been that decisive action needs to be taken in order to underpin the Eurozone. Asked whether he is satisfied that decisive action is being taken, he said clearly the Eurozone has taken some steps to taken some steps to get its house in order but more needs to be done, and the PM has set out what needs to be done.
Asked about the PM’s view of the immediate issue right now on whether Spanish banks can access the bailout fund without going through the state, the PMS answered we’re not part of the bailout and that’s really a matter for Eurozone leaders. Asked whether he will be talking to Merkel about this, she said clearly they will be talking about Eurozone issues but she is not going to try and predict what they will talk about. Asked for No10′s reaction to Michel Barnier’s comments about taxpayers not funding bank bailouts and that banks should pay for banks, she said the PM supports the ideas of structural reform, and referred to the PM’s views on the Eurozone.
Asked whether the issue of Spain was discussed with Obama, she said Eurozone issues were discussed.
Asked whether the PM hopes the downgrading of the credit rating of German banks will persuade Merkel that Germany is not above the crisis, she said Eurozone is a matter for Eurozone leaders, and decisive action is required. Asked if it might add some flavour to the talks, she said she will not speculate about what he might say.
Asked if there are more meetings planned with the Governor of the Bank of England, the FSA or other contingency planning meetings, the PMS confirmed contingency planning continues, but she is not aware of any plans of any meetings with Bank of England in the immediate future. Asked whether the PM believes the German Chancellor is appraised of the need for an immediate plan, she reiterated what has been said, that steps need to be taken in order to restore confidence in the Eurozone and that’s why it’s being discussed and will be discussed in the coming days. She said she is not going to predict what is going to be discussed. Asked whether it can be assumed the PM will be outlining his Manchester speech to her, which included the issue of Eurobonds, she said again she will not speculate about what he might say, but confirmed Eurobonds were mentioned in the Manchester speech.
Asked about the European Commission’s plans, the PMS said the Government welcomes the announcement today and the proposals; the UK Government’s view is that it represents a positive step in tackling the issues of ‘too big to fail’ in the banking sector and WE will work constructively with stakeholders. Asked whether the Government agrees with the pace, she said we back the idea of structural reform but this doesn’t take the place of needing to deal with issues facing the Eurozone now.
Asked if the PM is concerned about the way in which people on benefits were treated during the Jubilee by the protection company, she said we understand the company involved has apologised. More broadly the Work Programme is about giving people who have been out of the job market for quite some time the skills they need to get a job that is sustainable. This is one-off; DWP have said the jobseekers were doing a short term placement as part of a training course with the aim of this leading to qualifications and jobs in the security sector. We expect all people participating to be treated no differently to other employees and we welcome this morning’s apology. Asked whether the PM thinks this incident is not very helpful for the Government in pushing ahead with its work scheme, she reiterated this is an isolated incident; the company itself has apologised. The Work Programme offers people experience and a chance to develop skills that they need to get into sustainable jobs. Asked if the Government thinks it is appropriate that, had all gone to plan, that men and women involved would have been changing into their attire at the same place she reiterated the company involved has apologised and this was a one-off, and that the Work Programme does offer people the opportunities to gain skills for a sustainable job. Asked how we know it is a one-off, she said this is what has been brought to light and the company has apologised. Asked if there is any other work ongoing in government to ensure there are no other breaches such as this one, she advised people to speak to DWP.
Asked if the transport arrangements at the Jubilee were a dry run for the Olympics, she said an awful lot of work has gone in to ensure they are a success for this country. There have been numerous exercises and test events to rehearse. We’re very confident the Olympics will be a great success.
Asked for the terms of reference for the inquiry, the PMS advised to speak to Cabinet Office for detail, but that the PM was clear on the weekend that Alex Allen will be looking at loose ends, because he is happy with the explanation Baroness Warsi gave. She apologised for the mistakes she made, but clearly a mistake has been made so therefore Alex Allen has been asked to look into whether a breach of the Ministerial code has occurred. Asked what sort of loose ends will be looked at, she said those relating to the specific issue of Baroness Warsi on her trip to Pakistan. Asked what kind of referral this is, she said, as the PM said when asked yesterday, he is very happy with Baroness Warsi’s explanation and she has fully apologised for the mistake she has made. But he thinks it is right for Alex Allen to have a look at any loose ends that needs to be picked up, and it’s no more than that. Baroness Warsi was clear and set out in her letter to the PM what her mistake was and has apologised for that. Asked if she has been referred, the PMS reiterated that the PM has asked Alex Allen to look into this to see if there are any loose ends to look at around this specific issue regarding Baroness Warsi. Asked if Sir Alex Allan will be given a desk, she said she does not know specifically about the arrangements and advised people to speak to the Cabinet Office. Asked if the work is underway, she confirmed that it was.
Benefits for the elderly
Asked if the PM stands by his pre-election promise to keep free TV licenses and bus passes for the elderly, the PMS said it is in the Coalition Agreement which he stands by. The Agreement says: ‘we will protect key benefits for older people such as the winter fuel allowance, free TV licenses, free bus travel and free eye tests and prescriptions’. Asked whether he believes we can acceptably debate universal benefits for elderly people in the run up to the next Spending Review, she said she would not speculate on the next Spending Review, but he stands by what is in the Coalition Agreement. Asked whether the Coalition Agreement wording rules out means testing, she said it protects what is in place.