No. 10 Afternoon Press Briefing From 14 Dec 2007
Briefing from the British Prime Minister's Spokesman on: Brussels, Kosovo, Iran, Northern Rock and Climate Change.
Afternoon Press Briefing from Friday 14 December 2007
The Prime Minister's Spokesman began by giving details to the assembled press about the main issues the Prime Minister would be focussing on in Brussels. The PMS said we were anticipating a declaration from the European Union on globalisation. The main outstanding issue on that particular subject in advance of this morning's meeting was the exact language that would be used around future institutional reform. The Government's position, which had a high degree of support, was that there should be no further institutional reform for the foreseeable future.
The second issue was the terms of reference for the Reflection Group. The PMS said that we were hopeful that the remit for the main challenges for Europe, up until 2030, could be agreed on. The main issue for the Government had been to ensure that the focus was on responding to the bigger issues, such as the challenges of globalisation and climate change within the institutional framework set out in the Lisbon Treaty.
The third issue was that the Prime Minister was keen to have some discussion of global economic issues, particularly after the central bank intervention earlier this week and the continuing instability in the global economy, originating in the United States. The two foreign policy issues that were expected to be discussed in a substantive way were Kosovo and Iran.
Asked if he expected the Prime Minister to make any proposals on global economic issues, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister's position on globalisation was well known. The Government had published a paper yesterday that set out a number of proposals in advance of the Prime Minister's appearance at the Liaison Committee. The PMS added that we did need to push ahead with structural reform in Europe, we did need to continue to push ahead with completion of the single market in Europe and we did need to maintain an outward looking Europe, with Europe not only leading the way in terms of finding solutions to the current global financial instability, but also taking a lead in the successful inclusion of the Doha Trade Round. These were the sorts of issues where Europe could show leadership, where at this uncertain time for the world economy, Europe could play a role in pushing forward measures to promote stability and growth.
Put that all the European leaders seemed to be wearing matching lapel badges at the photo-call that morning except the Prime Minister and could the PMS tell journalists what these signified and why the Prime Minister was not wearing his, the PMS said he had no idea and even if he did, he would have no intention of answering that question. Asked why not, as it made the Prime Minister look like the odd man out again, the PMS said that he thought the journalist was taking this rather trivial matter to absurd extremes.
Asked if the statement was going to say there would be no institutional change for ten years, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister did not say that explicitly in October. The current treaty was not implemented in its full form until 2017 and Europe clearly needed a lengthy period of stability in the institutional framework. The Government's position was that if you put an explicit date on it, there was a risk that momentum would be created for a new treaty from that particular date. So there were arguments for and against having a specific date involved when talking about how to define the term "foreseeable future".
Asked if the Prime Minister was aware that he was alleged to have caused genuine offence to the EU by arriving late for the signing of the treaty, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had a good relationship with President Barosso and had known him for many years. The Prime Minister had had a meeting with the Portuguese President yesterday and there would be further discussions today. The most important thing was to keep the focus on the substance, with the substance of today being the focus on issues such as globalisation, Iran and Kosovo. These were all issues where Britain was right at the heart and in many cases leading the European debate.
Put that the Prime Minister had not made a major European speech since taking up the position and were there any plans for the Prime Minister to come to Brussels and make any kind of speech in the near future, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had been a senior member of the British Cabinet for the last ten years, over which time he had given countless speeches on Europe. The Prime Minister's views on Europe were therefore well known and there would be plenty of opportunities to strengthen the relationship with President Barosso and others in the EC.
Asked what kind of issues the Government wanted to see in the remit for the Reflections Group, the PMS said that the Government did not think it necessary for the group to reopen the question of institutional reform, nor were we anticipating much focus on defence issues. The main issue was to look ahead over the next 20 or 30 years and look at the challenges that would come from globalisation, climate change and migration flows. These kinds of issues were what European people and European businesses really cared about.
Asked who would be in the group and would there be any British representatives included, the PMS replied that the main discussion would be around the remit and it was possible that there may be an outcome in terms of a chairman for the group, but further names should not be anticipated. The PMS added that the Government would like to see British representation in this group and it was something we were pushing for. However, the Government was not anticipating the whole composition of the group being finalised today. Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned about the coverage of his arrival in Lisbon, the PMS reiterated that the Prime Minister's view was that it was a complete fuss about nothing and the most important thing was that we focus on the real issues that really matter to the people of Europe and that's what would be discussed today.
Asked what contact the Prime Minister had had with President Sarkozy last night and today, the PMS said they were both at the meeting today and they knew each other very well, so he was sure they would be discussing things in the margins of the meeting during the course of the day.
Asked if the bill implementing the treaty could be amended, the PMS replied that obviously the treaty would have to be ratified in Parliament. The legislation that was passed needed to be consistent with the Government's obligations to ratify the bill. The Government was confident that the bill would get through Parliament, but there needed to be a proper parliamentary debate on all aspects of it. However many days were given to debate the treaty, it was important that there was a proper and thorough process of parliamentary scrutiny.
Asked why the Prime Minister felt it necessary to return to Downing Street last night when most of the other leaders went straight to Brussels, the PMS said he had no idea what other leaders did and what their rationale was for doing that. The Prime Minister was in Lisbon to sign the treaty and was there until roughly 6pm. He had a long meeting with Prime Minister Socrates, he came back to Downing Street and then travelled to Brussels this morning. The PMS said he was unaware of any EU business that the Prime Minister had been absent from.
Asked if the Prime Minister would be holding a press conference to discuss his appearance at the Lisbon Summit, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had spoken to the media last night and would be happy to reiterate his views on it at any time.
Asked which leaders the Prime Minster had spoken to so far, the PMS said the Prime Minister had certainly seen Bertie Ahern and he was sure there would be more informal meetings today.
Asked if the Government would be pushing for the EU to recognise Kosovan independence, the PMS said that the Government's position, which was increasingly the position of the EU, was that we would like some form of supervised independence for Kosovo. As people would know, there was now increasing understanding across the EU that the Troika process had not created the consensus that was anticipated and the present situation was unsustainable. Therefore, the sooner we could find a managed solution the better. There were proposals from the Ahtisaari Group, which the UK were supportive of, for a form of supervised independence and that's what the Government believed was the most constructive way forward.
In response to the question of whether the EU could implement the Ahtisaari proposals without a mandate from the Security Council, the PMS said that it was hoped that this would be under a UN mandate of some form and there would be discussions in the Security Council during the course of next week. There were likely to be further discussions in the New Year, so we would take stock of the situation following that.
Asked to what extent was the UK trying to get unity around support for the idea of Kosovan independence in the New Year, the PMS said that what the Government was trying to get unity around was the idea of supervised independence, a concept set out by Ahtisaari.
Asked what the PMS thought Serbia's reaction and views would be to the Government's stance on Kosovo, journalists were informed that the Government was very keen to see the Western Balkans integrated back into the European family, but as with any country that seeks to be included in the Union, there were criteria that had to be met. In terms of Serbia, there would have to a resolution on the outstanding issues from the Balkan War.
Asked for an outline on the kind of language people could expect concerning Iran, the PMS replied that there would be discussion of that today. The key thing to look out for was how things would be taken forward in the UN. We were expecting further discussions in the UN and the Government was pushing for a third resolution and further measures.
Asked whether the Government accepted that the private sale process had run its course, the PMS replied that he would not accept the premise of the question. Negotiations with Virgin and Olivant were still ongoing. The Government's preferred position was a private sale, but of course as the Chancellor had said, nothing would be ruled out. The principles that had guided the Government's approach to Northern Rock, were set out by the Chancellor in his House of Commons statement a couple of weeks ago and the key priorities were around protection of depositors, protection of the taxpayer's interest and the impact on wider financial stability.
Asked when and where Hilary Benn would be saying something on the outcome of the Bali climate change talks, the PMS replied that he did not know the exact timings. The talks were taking place some way ahead in terms of the time zone and it was the Government's understanding that talks were still ongoing.