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UK Press Briefing: 1100am Monday 14 February 2005

Press Briefing: 1100am Monday 14 February 2005

Briefing from the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman on: Immigration, Northern Ireland, terror and Iraq.

Immigration

Asked why Charles Clarke had said that Britain needs more immigration, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman said that he hadn't seen the precise comments but people should look at what the Prime Minister had said in his speech. In that speech he had made it clear that in the case of economic migrants that this country needed, those people should be able to come here. That was why we were putting forward the "points system" as a way of prioritising what our economy needs. There were an estimated 650,000 job vacancies in the UK, and there were many parts of the country where there was a shortage of skilled workers. You therefore had a choice, you could either allow migration to fill those posts or you have to make do with the consequences of not being able to fill those posts.

Put to him that Charles Clarke's statement that more people should be allowed to seek refuge in the UK was counter to stated Government policy on the matter, the PMOS said that again where there genuine cases of asylum the Government believed that the international rules, which had benefited many people in many different countries throughout the years, should be applied. If people were genuine asylum seekers then the Prime Minister had made it clear so long as people abide the rules then they would have the traditional right of entry. The important thing was that people abide by the rules.

Northern Ireland

Asked whose responsibility it was to decide whether sanctions should be imposed on the IRA, the PMOS said that the IMC made recommendations which the two government's then took forward or not depending on their view. Asked if the two governments would both agree on what should be done, the PMOS said that there were certain things which were in the British Government's remit but as always we would seek consensus with Dublin.

Terror

Asked if he would characterise the meetings between the Prime Minister and leaders of the two main opposition parties this week as a negotiation, the PMOS said he would not characterise it in that way. No one was in any doubt that the issues of house-arrest and the use of intercepts as evidence were serious issues with many serious difficulties that lay behind them. This meeting would be a chance to discuss those serious issues, but the Government had not put forward its' proposals lightly on either matter. Therefore he would not anticipate any big announcement following Friday's discussions. He would anticipate a serious discussion about serious issues.

Asked how firmly the Government was standing by the use of house arrest in this situation, the PMOS said that the control orders would allow a range of options. At the top end those would include what could be considered extreme measures. Those measures however, were a response to extreme circumstances, in a few, rare cases.

Asked if it was the Government's intention to pass the legislation before an election, the PMOS said that at the time of the announcement we had said we aimed to pass the legislation into law as quickly as possible but it was a matter for the business managers. Asked if the Government had completely ruled out wire-tap evidence, the PMOS said that he thought he was right in saying that there had now been six reviews of such evidence. On each occasion the end result had been the same: that superficially it may seem like a good idea, in reality it would not make that much difference and it would do so at the cost of potentially putting intelligence sources at risk. In terms of the national interests the conclusion had always been that that was not a wise thing to do.

Iraq

Asked of the Prime Minister had any reaction to the results of the election in Iraq, the PMOS said that the results of the election in Iraq first of all underlined that this was a genuine election. It had resulted in a genuine democracy. Clearly the turnout in some areas was lower than we had wished. However we should not exaggerate that because Sunnis had voted and voted in large numbers in certain areas. The reasons for the low turnout in other areas was a direct result of intimidation. What we had now was politics. That was a welcome change from what we had had before. Asked if the Prime Minister was disappointed that a secular Government hadn't been elected, the PMOS said that the shape of Iraqi Government was entirely a matter for the democratically elected parties in Iraq. What had been encouraging was that all those who had spoken so far had spoken of the need for a truly representative Government, a truly representative body moving forward, and a constitution that guaranteed that the Government of Iraq in the future would be representative of the country as a whole. Therefore what we had seen was not just a democratic election taking place but a recognition that Iraq was made up of different elements and all those elements needed to be represented in the future.


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