No. 10 Morning Press Briefing From 4 Dec 2007
Briefing from the British Prime Minister's Spokesman on: Cabinet, party funding, Iran, defence spending, temporary workers regulations, Kosovo and Russian elections.
Morning press briefing from 4 December 2007
The Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) began by telling the assembled press about that morning's Cabinet meeting. The main item on the agenda was a discussion of the Children's Plan, based on a presentation by Ed Balls, ahead of publication next week. There was an update by Des Browne on the Nimrod report, published this afternoon. There were also updates by Jack Straw on prisons and party funding and updates from David Miliband on Kosovo and Iran.
Asked what Jack Straw had said on prisons, the PMS said it had been a general update. The Government had a prison building programme in place that it was determined to implement and take through. Asked why there was a need for an update if nothing had changed, the PMS said it was not uncommon for the Cabinet to be updated and have discussions around issues that were live policy agendas.
Asked if there were any proposals or indications of direction on party funding, the PMS replied that it had not been a particularly detailed discussion in Cabinet, but more of an update following the Prime Minister's speech on Saturday and ahead of the debate this afternoon. Asked if there was any discussion of the reform of trade union funding, the PMS reiterated that it was a general discussion and told the press that it was his understanding that Jack Straw would be speaking on the subject in the House.
Asked if Peter Hain or Harriet Harman had spoken in Cabinet, the PMS said that he did not want to get in to who had been speaking. Asked if Jack Straw had said anything about further talks on an inter-party basis, the PMS replied that without getting into what was actually said, the Government had made clear that it wanted to take it forward on a consultative basis.
In response to the question of whether the Prime Minister had contacted the police in regards to party donations, the PMS replied that the question he would answer on the subject would be whether or not the Prime Minister had been interviewed by police, which he hadn't. All other questions had been covered by what the Prime Minister had said in his letter to the police, that it would not be helpful to provide a running commentary on the subject.
Asked if the Prime Minister retained full confidence in Peter Hain and Harriet Harman, the PMS said the Prime Minister retained full confidence in both. Asked if the Prime Minister retained confidence in Wendy Alexander, the PMS replied that she was not a member of the Government, so therefore it was not for him to comment on her position.
Asked on the make-up of the discussions in Cabinet on Iran and whether they included the American Intelligence report, the PMS said the discussions had touched on that. In general, the Government's position was that it needed to examine the detail of the report, but in overall terms the Government believed that the report confirmed that it was right to be concerned about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons. It also showed that the sanction programme and international pressure had had some effect. It also shows that the intent was there and the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon remained a very serious issue.
As people knew, Iran's civilian uranium enrichment programme was continuing and once a country mastered the technology to enrich uranium for use for civilian purposes, it could readily use the same technology to produce weapons grade uranium.
The PMS went on to say that the degree of engagement that there has been with both the EU Solana process and the IAEA process had not been as full as the Government would have liked. It would continue to discuss the matter with its key international allies and the Government would be looking for further discussion at the UN in the weeks ahead.
Asked if the American Intelligence report had surprised the Government, the PMS said that the detail was being examined and the Government was in close contact with the Americans. The real issue over recent months had been the civilian uranium enrichment programme and the potential that that holds for using the same technology to produce weapons grade uranium.
Asked if he was making a distinction between the prospect of the Iranian's acquiring a bomb and the Iranian enrichment programme for civilian purposes and were the Iranian's still a threat, the PMS replied that they were still a threat because of the potential for the civilian nuclear programme, which is based on uranium enrichment to use the same technology to produce weapons grade uranium. Put that you could forgive the public for not knowing who to believe anymore given that the Americans were now saying that the Iranian's had not been pursuing a nuclear bomb for four years, the PMS said that there were different issues here. There was the issue that was addressed directly by the American report, which certainly did show that the intent was there and that the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon remained a very serious problem. There was also the issue of the civilian programme and the potential that that holds for the same technology to be used to produce weapons grade Uranium.
Asked if the Government's bottom line was that it did not want Iran to have a civilian nuclear programme, the PMS repeated that the issue was not civilian nuclear power as such; it was the extent to which the technology used for civilian nuclear power could also be used to produce weapons grade uranium. That was what the IAEA and EU processes were designed to address and the Government had not seen as full cooperation as it would like from Iran, in respect to both those processes.
Asked for a comment on reports that the Government was looking to cut the Defence budget by £15billion, the PMS said that he thought it was a strange report. The Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) only concluded less than two months ago, which involved yet further years of real-terms increases in the Defence Budget. The budget was set up to 2010/2011. Asked if he would comment on possible reductions after 2010/2011, the PMS said the Prime Minister had talked consistently about his support for the armed forces and we had also seen over the last decade, successive CSR's, which had resulted in real-terms increases in the Defence budget.
Asked if the Defence budget would be enough to guarantee all projects going ahead as planned, the PMS replied that the Ministry of Defence had to make long-term plans. The Government had already set, what by any respects, was a long-term budget, for the MOD and they had had their budget set for the next four years. Asked if tough choices would have to be made involving postponing or scrapping projects, the PMS replied that he was not sure he would accept the premise of the question. The PMS reiterated that the Prime Minister was determined to ensure that the armed forces got the resources they needed to do the job they were asked to do.
Temporary Workers Regulations
Asked to comment on the temporary workers regulations being concluded in Brussels and did he think they would go through, the PMS said that there was an ongoing negotiation and discussion on the subject. The Government's position was that it was looking for an agreement that struck an appropriate balance between protecting workers, but without putting their jobs at risk. Put that the Government had been quoted as saying that it believed the regulations would cost 250,000 jobs if they went through, the PMS said it was not something he recognised. Asked for an estimate, the PMS said he did not have one and it depended on what was agreed. It was a very complex dossier and a number of countries had issues with it. The PMS said it had been under discussion for some time and the key for the Government was to strike the right balance between protecting the interests of workers while also ensuring that the flexible labour market in the UK was not put at risk.
Asked if a final decision would be reached tomorrow, the PMS reiterated that it was a complex negotiation and it was not only the UK that had issues with the dossier. Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken about the issue with other Heads of Government, the PMS said the Prime Minister spoke to other Heads of Government about a whole range of issues all the time, as people would expect. Asked if the Government had a red line on the subject, the PMS replied that there was a negotiation that was ongoing and he did not think that it would be sensible to have that negotiation in public.
Put that the Government could raise the issue at the EU Summit, the PMS said that would be a matter for the Presidency. Asked who the other countries were that had issues with the dossier, the PMS said that he did not want to be the person naming other countries, but he was sure people could easily determine that.
Asked on the nature of the Cabinet discussions on Kosovo, the PMS said that it was a brief update on where we were. The deadline for the discussions between Kosovo and Serbia concluded next Monday. There was a well-established EU process led by the former Finnish Prime Minister Mr Ahtisaari, that the Government was fully supportive of, so he advised people to see how things developed.
Asked if the Government would be commenting on the conduct of the Russian elections and would there be a review of Russia's participation in the G8, the PMS said that he thought the Foreign Office had issued a comment yesterday in relation to the Russian election which would be made available to people. The PMS added that he was not aware of any review underway in terms of the G8.