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No. 10 Morning Press Briefing From 29 Nov 2007

Morning press briefing from 29 November 2007

Briefing from the British Prime Minister's Spokesman on: Sudan/Gillian Gibbons and Funding

Sudan/Gillian Gibbons

The Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) started by giving an update on the situation in Sudan. The Foreign Secretary had summoned the Sudanese ambassador today and that meeting would take place at noon. The Prime Minister, who was taking a close interest in this situation, had spoken to Ms Gibbons' family that morning.

Asked if the Prime Minister had tried to contact any of the Sudanese authorities, the PMS replied that, as he had already said, we were in contact with the Sudanese Government through our embassy in Khartoum and David Miliband was speaking to the Sudanese ambassador today. We would consider what further steps might be necessary in the light of the meeting with the ambassador today.

Asked what the attitude was to countries which adopted the Sharia law, the PMS said that our general position was that it was not for us to comment on whether other countries' laws were correct or not, just as we would not expect other countries to comment on our laws.

Put that that meant there was not a problem, the PMS repeated that, in general, we do not comment on other countries' laws but obviously if there were specific individual cases where we thought there might be some issues then it was important, as in this case, to establish what the facts were and what the next steps should be. Consular cases were dealt with on an individual basis and when British subjects went to foreign countries they were subject to the laws of those countries.

Asked what it was that was being protested against if that was our position, the PMS said that what needed to be understood was exactly what the rationale was in this particular case i.e. why Ms Gibbons had been charged, and to get a clearer understanding of what the next steps might be. We would consider our response in light of those things.

Put that this seemed to be a clear case of potential violation of human rights, the PMS said that people should wait and see what would happen rather than speculating about what might happen. Ms Gibbons had been charged, she was in court today, we had summoned the Sudanese ambassador so that we could get a clearer explanation of the circumstances surrounding the charge. Once we had that explanation we would then consider what the next steps we might take would be.

Put that the Sudanese Government were suggesting this morning that they could not interfere in the judicial system and asked what could be achieved if that was the position, the PMS said that people should wait and see how things progress; the first step was to establish exactly what the rationale was for Ms Gibbons being charged and to get a clearer sense from them of how things could progress. Once that had happened we could consider what further steps might be necessary.

Asked what the Prime Minister had said to Ms Gibbons' family and if there was a view that this was a politically motivated charge, the PMS replied that, in regards to the latter question, we had summoned the Sudanese ambassador to make sure that we got a clearer official explanation from them surrounding the circumstances of this particular individual case. In regards to the first question, the PMS said he did not want to get into what exactly the Prime Minister said to the family, except simply to reassure them that all possible assistance would be made available.

Asked if there was any concern that this incident might have an impact on community relations in this country, the PMS said that he had noted that a number of Muslim groups had come out this morning reacting to the situation; it was important that we did more, at this stage, to establish what the facts were before we moved to any further stage.

Asked more broadly on human rights policy, the PMS said we had a general human rights position as well as a general principal that individual countries were sovereign and established their own laws. However, clearly each individual case was different so you had to look at each one according to its own particular circumstances which was what we were doing with this case.

Put that each individual case was different depending on the politics and international laws of the country e.g. Saudi Arabia be-headed people but we did not take sanctions against them, the PMS said that this was not about Saudi Arabia, it was about Sudan; people were getting ahead of themselves and we should take things step by step and see how things developed. We would see the Sudanese Ambassador and hear what he had to say and take it from there.

Asked repeatedly which member(s) of Ms Gibbons' family the Prime Minister had spoken to, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had spoken to one close family member but did not want to get into exactly which member of the family it was.

Asked why the Government had waited until now to summon the Sudanese ambassador, the PMS said that a number of steps had been taken when Ms Gibbons was first detained; Lord Malloch-Brown spoke to the Sudanese ambassador earlier in the week following Ms Gibbons' detention and the embassy in Khartoum had been in touch with the Sudanese Government. Once Ms Gibbons had been charged, we then escalated to the next level by calling in the Sudanese ambassador and that meeting was taking place at noon today.

Asked if the British Government was satisfied that Ms Gibbons was being treated well, if it was confident in the transparency of the Sudanese legal system and what the next step was, the PMS said we should take things step by step and wait to see how things developed. We should wait and see what the explanation would be from the Sudanese ambassador and then take things from there. In terms of Ms Gibbons' position, there had been a number of consular visits to her and the Prime Minister was determined to ensure that full consular assistance continued to be made available.

Asked if the Government was happy that Ms Gibbons was being held in reasonable conditions, the PMS said that she was being held in detention in Sudan and those were the circumstances in which she was having to be detained. All we could do was ensure that she got all the consular assistance available.

Asked if the Prime Minister was alarmed by some of the language being used by some Islamic groups in Sudan saying she should die, the PMS repeated that we needed to get clearer explanations from the Sudanese Government on the circumstances surrounding the charge and the court appearance today. Those were the sorts of issues the Foreign Secretary would discuss with the Sudanese ambassador.

Asked if it was right to assume that the Foreign Secretary had called the Sudanese ambassador to protest, the PMS said it was right to assume that we were trying to get a clearer understanding of what the circumstances were and of what the next steps might be and consider our response subsequently. Obviously, it was not an everyday occurrence for the Foreign Secretary to call in an ambassador in relation to a specific case. The purpose of the meeting was to get a clearer understanding of what the facts were and a clearer sense of what the way forward was.

Asked if there was any concern that the Sudanese Ambassador might not be speaking with the full voice of the Sudanese Government, the PMS said he would leave that to greater experts on Sudanese internal politics; he was the ambassador and therefore the ambassador we would be dealing with.

Asked if Lord Malloch-Brown would be attending the meeting between the Foreign Secretary and the Sudanese ambassador, the PMS said his understanding was that it was just the Foreign Secretary going but it was for the Foreign Office to decide and it was best to check with them.


Asked if the Prime Minister, the Government or the Cabinet Secretary had taken any legal steps at this stage, the PMS replied not as far as he knew but that these were matters relating to the Labour Party.

Asked if was the Prime Minister's view that it was best if he knew nothing of party funding so as to never be compromised by it or if he needed to keep a very close eye on it, the PMS said that if that was a question about how the Prime Minister managed his relationship with the Labour Party then it was a political question and best directed to the party.

Asked how important it was for the Prime Minister to clean up politics, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had spoken in length about this on Monday and yesterday at Prime Minister's Questions and there was nothing more he could usefully add.

Asked if it was correct that there was a revised Ministerial Code, the PMS said that we had made some revisions to the Ministerial Code in July.

Put that if someone was involved in an alleged breach of that code then the Cabinet Secretary would trigger the procedures regarding breaches, the PMS said that that was correct.


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