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No. 10 Afternoon Press Briefing From 29 Nov 2007


Briefing from the British Prime Minister's Spokesman on: Sudan, Leeds magistrates, European reform treaty, northern rock, UK economy, HMRC and donations

Afternoon press briefing from 29 November 2007

Sudan

Asked for feedback from the Foreign Secretary's meeting with the Sudanese Ambassador, the Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that a statement had been released earlier today and it would be best if the Foreign Office do any further briefing on the meeting, rather than No.10. The Government was awaiting the outcome of the court case, which was expected later on today.

Leeds Magistrates

Asked if the Government was confident that this was a problem for just that particular court or were there concerns that there could be similar problems elsewhere, the PMS replied that it was a particular issue relating to Leeds Magistrate Court. As Jack Straw had said, he had asked the Chief Inspector of the Courts Administration to work with the chief inspectors of the Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service, to conduct a thorough review into what had happened.

Asked how concerned the Government was about the fact that people who should have been issued with warrants weren't, the PMS said that obviously it was a matter of concern and that was why Jack Straw had taken action to establish what the full facts were and instigate the review.

European Reform Treaty

Put that the scrutiny committee were convinced that the rules of the House require, in the wake of their report, a debate on the treaty before the Prime Minister signs it, the PMS replied that he had not seen the comments.

Northern Rock

Asked if the Government was concerned that further credit had been given to Northern Rock, the PMS replied that the Chancellor and others had made the situation in relation to Northern Rock clear on numerous occasions. There was a process of sale of Northern Rock underway, with Virgin having emerged as the preferred bidder. As people would also know, the lending was secured against Northern Rock's assets.

Asked repeatedly if the Prime Minister was 100 per cent confident of getting it all back, the PMS said that the Prime Minister's position was that he was supporting the Chancellor's efforts to secure a sale of Northern Rock. Negotiations were underway on that front. The Prime Minister and Chancellor had made the position clear. Asked if he was confident that Northern Rock's assets were worth what they had said they were worth, the PMS replied that it was not for him to make those judgements. The Treasury had made their position clear, as had the Bank of England on numerous occasion, so he would let them speak on such matters.

Asked if the nationalisation of Northern Rock was still a fallback option, the PMS replied that it would be best to raise such questions with the Treasury. As people knew, the position at the moment was that there was a preferred bidder; negotiations were underway which were commercial and market sensitive and the PMS did not think it appropriate to comment further in view of that.

UK Economy

Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with the Governor of the Bank of England, that the UK was in for an uncomfortable period financially, the PMS said that the Prime Minister was speaking at length about the world economy at the weekend and gave a number of interviews. These were testing times for the World economy as a result of the instability in the financial markets that originated in the sub-prime mortgage market in the US. Clearly no country could insulate itself from the ups and downs of the world economy, but because of the framework that the Government had put in place, it was the view of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor that the country remained well placed to withstand shocks of this kind, just as the UK had withstood the Asian crisis, the Russian crisis, the recession in the US, the dotcom bubble, the tripling of oil prices and all of the other economic shocks that had hit the UK economy over the last decade. The country had continued to enjoy continuous growth while other countries had suffered negative growth.

Asked if the Prime Minister would give a categorical assurance that house prices were not 30% over-valued, the PMS said that what the Prime Minister could give an assurance on was that he, working with the Chancellor, would do everything that was necessary in order to steer a course of stability during these uncertain times for the world economy.

HMRC

Asked if the Prime Minister had received a letter of apology from HMRC, the PMS replied that he would not normally comment on the Prime Minister's personal financial affairs.

Asked whether the Prime Minister had had an interim report back yet, the PMS asked people to check the exact timings with the Treasury. The Government was expecting an interim report from Keiran Poynter, the Chair of PWC soon. Mr Poynter was conducting the review of data security and this particular matter in HMRC. Asked if the review would be published and whether the Treasury had seen it, the PMS replied that it was his understanding that the Treasury had not seen it. The PMS added that he did not know if it would be published and advised people to check with the Treasury.

Donations

Asked if the police decided to investigate the matter, would the Prime Minister suspend the internal inquiries going on, the PMS said that it was entirely a party matter. Asked if there was a police investigation, would the Cabinet Secretary be the person to liaise with them, the PMS replied that we would cross that bridge if we came to it.

Asked if the Prime Minister would give his full backing to Harriet Harman, the PMS said that he would.

ENDS

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