10 Downing Street - Lobby Briefing 27th November
LOBBY BRIEFING: 11.30AM TUESDAY 27 NOVEMBER 2001
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) advised journalists that the UN-convened Summit to discuss the establishment of a future Government in Afghanistan was taking place in Bonn today. The talks were being chaired by Lakhdar Brahimi. A senior British official, Robert Cooper, was attending the meeting as an observer rather than a participant. Given the situation three weeks ago, it was obviously some achievement to have reached the point where a talks process was underway. That said, we needed to recognise that this process would take time. You didn't jump overnight from a failed state with a history of bloodshed and tribal conflict to a country with a broad-based Government and a bright future. These talks were important. It was essential to give them space to progress. We acknowledged there would be setbacks. History had taught us that was the case with all these sorts of processes. However, it was important for us not to become too overwhelmed by them when they happened.
The PMOS said that the Prime Minister had chaired a special PBR Cabinet this morning. The Chancellor had briefed colleagues on the contents of the PBR. He had explained that these were uncertain times for the world economy and that we had seen the growth in world trade fall from 12% last year to 1% this year. However, because of the tough action we had taken in the past and the new frameworks we had put in place for monetary and fiscal policy, we were better placed than we had been during previous global slowdowns to weather the storm. He said that with inflation and unemployment at record lows and the action we had taken to repay debt during the last Parliament, this meant we could meet the costs of our international obligations while also maintaining our commitment to invest in public services to build a stronger and fairer Britain. Following the Chancellor's briefing, the Prime Minister had paid a warm tribute to him for his work.
Asked about the cost of the military campaign in Afghanistan, the PMOS said he hadn't seen any estimates at this stage. He pointed out that the conflict was still ongoing. In answer to further questions, the PMOS said that today was clearly an important day in the political and economic calendar. As we had said many times previously, the successful management of the economy was fundamental to everything the Government wanted to do and wanted to achieve, such as raising living standards and putting extra investment into our public services. It was on a day like today that we could see how fortunate we were to have such a superb Chancellor. Clearly the close relationship he had with the Prime Minister was one of the great strengths of this Government. Both had worked very closely on the PBR, as they always did.
Asked to comment on a report in a weekend paper that the Chancellor had asked the Prime Minister on more than one occasion when he was going to step aside, the PMOS said that today we were dealing with big economic issues, not tittle-tattle. Put to him that this story sounded pretty big, the PMOS said we had been drawn into playing these games in the past and he did not intend to start playing them today. Put to him that he had started it, the PMOS said it was not a question of starting anything. It was a statement of fact that the Chancellor continued to do an excellent job. Asked why the Prime Minister had paid such a glowing tribute to the Chancellor in today's Cabinet when surely he didn't normally, the PMOS pointed out that it had been a special Cabinet focussing on the PBR. He added that journalists didn't have too long to wait. There were only a few more two-ways to go before 3.30pm.
Asked to comment on the FT's suggestion that the PBR was just a chance to grab headlines, the PMOS said it was easy to be cynical. The PBR was an opportunity for the Government to set out where were in relation to growth forecasts and the economy as a whole. We would argue that was pretty important.
Asked how long the statement would be, the PMOS said that he had seen a betting spread of 36-39 minutes quoted in one paper so he would go with that.