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UK Govt Press Briefing:


UK Govt Press Briefing:

PM/DPM

The Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) advised journalists that the Deputy Prime Minister would be travelling around the country to visit places he wouldn't normally be able to visit during 'term time'.

Asked who was running the country in the light of the fact that the Prime Minister was abroad and the Deputy Prime Minister was on a national tour, the PMS said that the Deputy Prime Minister's role during the summer was to look after the day-to-day running of Government business, which the Prime Minister was very happy for him to do. He believed that the Deputy Prime Minister did an excellent job, it being the sixth year he had taken on this role. There was absolutely no problem with him visiting different parts of the country. Whether he was in the West Midlands, Merseyside or Whitehall, he remained in contact with officials either by telephone or in person, as you would expect.

Asked to explain why Mr Prescott had not been given access to the nuclear button, the PMS said that the Deputy Prime Minister had dealt with this question yesterday. As journalists knew well, the Prime Minister remained the Prime Minister even when he was on holiday. Obviously there were processes to be gone through in any matter relating to security. Clearly these would come into operation if it became necessary. Put to her that the policy appeared to indicate 'a vote of no confidence in Mr Prescott's ability to destroy the planet', the PMS said she would strongly disagree with the premise of the question.

DR KELLY

Asked if the Deputy Prime Minister believed that Geoff Hoon ought to attend Dr Kelly's funeral on Wednesday, the PMS said that discussions had taken place with Mrs Kelly and her family. It had been decided that, in the circumstances, the Deputy Prime Minister would represent the country at the very highest level. Asked if Mr Prescott was Mrs Kelly's preference, the PMS said that as she understood it, the family was happy with the arrangements which had been made. We felt it was appropriate that the Deputy Prime Minister would be attending. Asked if she was implying that Mrs Kelly had asked for Mr Prescott to attend rather than Mr Hoon, the PMS repeated that discussions had taken place with Mrs Kelly and the family and it had been decided that the Deputy Prime Minister would attend. Since it was a family funeral, it would be inappropriate for anybody else to suggest who should or should not be there. It was entirely up to the family. Questioned as to whether anyone from the MoD would go, the PMS said that as she understood it, some of Dr Kelly's colleagues would be attending. As far as she was aware, no other Ministers would be going.

Asked if Mr Hoon had already departed for his holiday and where he was going, the PMS said she did not know and referred journalists to the MoD. Asked if Mr Hoon had told Mrs Kelly that he would be going on holiday and would therefore not be attending the funeral or whether it had been decided that he would not attend as a result of the discussions which had taken place, the PMS said that she did not know the exact circumstances as to how the decision had been reached. Asked repeatedly whether it had been a proper discussion or if a demand had been made at the outset, the PMS noted that the term 'discussion' implied a discussion of issues not the issuing of an order. Questioned as to whether the family had wanted Mr Prescott to attend rather than Mr Hoon, the PMS said that the family was very happy to have the Deputy Prime Minister. Asked if that meant that the family had had a say in who should attend, the PMS said that of course they had. It was a family funeral after all. A discussion had taken place and it had been decided that the Deputy Prime Minister would go. Asked if she was implying that the family had not wanted Mr Hoon to attend, the PMS said that she hadn't been implying anything of the sort, as journalists knew very well. In answer to further question, the PMS pointed out that funerals were a difficult time for any family. We believed that restraint should be shown and respect given to the fact that the funeral would be taking place on Wednesday. We had confirmed that, following a discussion with Dr Kelly's family, the Deputy Prime Minister would be attending. There was nothing further to say about the matter. Put to her that it seemed Mr Prescott had reportedly tried to persuade Mr Hoon that it would be in his best interests to attend, the PMS repeated that there had been a discussion with the family as to who should attend the funeral. As a result of that, the Deputy Prime Minister would be going. Pressed further, the PMS said that she had no intention of getting drawn into a debate about discussions between two Cabinet Ministers. Asked why she wasn't using the line that Mr Hoon was entitled to a holiday with his family and that he wasn't Dr Kelly's employer in any event, the PMS reminded journalists that the Deputy Prime Minister had actually made that point yesterday.

Asked for a reaction to a report in today's Independent newspaper in which a 'source' had suggested that the Government considered Dr Kelly to be a 'Walter Mitty' character, the PMS said that she did not know where the comment had come from, but we wanted to make it absolutely clear that no one would say such a thing with the approval of the Prime Minister - or indeed anyone else within Downing Street. The Prime Minister had called for restraint from the outset while Lord Hutton carried out this inquiry. This request was being repeated today because of Dr Kelly's funeral on Wednesday. Lord Hutton had set out the terms of his inquiry last Friday. It was clear that he was going to look at all the events in a great deal of detail and make up his own mind. We believed he should be allowed to get on with his job. Asked if she was saying that those in Downing Street who spoke to the press did not do so with the Prime Minister's approval, the PMS said that she was making the point that no one would say such a thing with the approval of the Prime Minister. Asked by the Independent correspondent to explain in what capacity those who had spoken to him had been acting, the PMS said that she couldn't say because she did not know where the comment had come from. Put to her that it must have come from someone in authority in Downing Street, the PMS repeated that she did not know where the comment had come from. Put to her by the Independent that it was clearly a Government 'line to take' given other people had been saying similar things last week, the PMS repeated that she did not know where the comment had come from and underlined once again that it had not been made with the approval of the Prime Minister or anyone else in Downing Street. Asked the Prime Minister's view of the comment, the PMS said that she hadn't spoken to the Prime Minister this morning.

EURO

Asked for a reaction to today's FT report suggesting that 700,000 European nationals who were resident in the UK could be given the opportunity to vote in any Euro referendum in Britain, the PMS said she thought that journalists were getting a bit too far ahead of themselves. She pointed out that proposals for a draft Bill hadn't even been published yet. Questioned as to whether the idea was being considered, the PMS said that as she understood it, the position at the moment was that EU citizens could vote in some local elections but not in a general election. Put to her that there were questions to be raised relating to British sovereignty, the PMS repeated that no proposals had been put forward at this stage. Asked repeatedly why she was refusing to rule out the suggestion, the PMS said she thought it would be more helpful if people exercised a little patience and waited for the proposals to be brought forward. Put to her that if journalists waited until the proposals were published they would be told that it was too late to ask questions - in the same way that they had been told it was too early - and then too late - to ask questions about the Iraq war, the PMS said that of course journalists were perfectly entitled to ask questions. She wasn't disputing that. She was simply making the point that no proposals had been put forward at this stage, so there was nothing to rule in or out. Put to her that the phrase 'at this stage' usually implied that it would happen while people were asleep, the PMS referred journalists to the Department for Constitutional Affairs if they wanted to hear someone else say the same thing.


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