Asked to explain why Steve Moxon, an employee at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND), had been suspended when the Home Office Minister, Beverley Hughes, had said in a Statement to the House this afternoon that two e-mails from him, dated 12 January, had not reached her until last night due to a variety of inexplicable circumstances, the PMOS said he did not think it was appropriate for him, as the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman, to comment on what were clearly internal staffing issues at the IND. Pressed repeatedly as to why Mr Moxon had been suspended when he had apparently gone through all the appropriate procedures to highlight his concern that figures on immigration from Eastern Europe were being massaged, the PMOS repeated that internal staffing issues were a matter for the Home Office and IND. Beverley Hughes had acknowledged in her Statement this afternoon that there was no question of any instruction having been given by Ministers or senior managers. It was a decision which had been taken by staff in Sheffield. She had announced that there would be an investigation by a senior immigration official from outside the Managed Migration Directorate to find out what had happened. Asked repeatedly why it was that 'whistleblowers' always seemed to be the ones who suffered, the PMOS said that Mr Moxon had been suspended pending the investigation. His allegations had been taken seriously and there would now be a further investigation. This was obviously a Home Office issue and he thought journalists would find it more useful to direct their questions to the Department rather than to him. Asked what he thought the Home Office's justification might have been in deciding to suspend Mr Moxon, the PMOS said that these were decisions which had been taken by Mr Moxon's employer. It was appropriate that the procedures that were in place were worked through by those involved. He was not one of those people. In answer to further questions, the PMOS said he hoped that journalists understood he was not being deliberately unhelpful rather than declining to become involved in a personnel issue.
Asked repeatedly if the Prime Minister had used his meeting with the Palestinian Prime Minister earlier today to try to persuade him to sit down with the Israeli Prime Minister to get the roadmap back on track, the PMOS said that everyone was doing what they could to try to move the process forward. The Prime Minister would also be seeing the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister later in the week. Everyone was aware of the need to reinvigorate the process. Pressed repeatedly as to whether the Prime Minister had asked the Palestinian Prime Minister if he would sit down and talk to the Israeli Prime Minister, the PMOS said that sometimes diplomacy could not be boiled down to one black and white issue. In answer to further questions, the PMOS said that just because there had been a series of meetings with key figures relating to the Middle East in the last few days, people should not assume that they heralded or previewed some grand announcement or plan. They were simply a reflection of the desire by all parties to do whatever they could to get things back on track. Everyone recognised the difficulties involved, as the weekend had once again demonstrated.
Asked if he was aware of 'even more lurid' allegations published in an Australian newspaper for tomorrow's consumption following a 'fairly lurid set' from Peter Foster over the weekend, the PMOS said that he had been asked about further allegations by Mr Foster this morning, to which he had replied that he didn't intend to dignify them with a response.
Asked if, in the light of Peter Hain's differing comments yesterday and today, the Government fully intended to invoke the Parliament Act to force the Constitutional Reform Bill through Parliament or whether it merely might do so, the PMOS said that the Government was committed to getting its legislation on the statute book for reasons that were well known. In our view, the amendment, as framed, amounted to a delaying tactic and a device to kick the proposals into the long grass. A vote was due to take place in the Lords this evening. We would have to await the result before deciding how to take things forward. Peter Hain had simply been underlining the Government's determination yesterday to get the Bill through. Asked if Mr Hain had been told not to repeat the threat he had made yesterday, hence the toned down version today, the PMOS said that we were taking things one step at a time.
Asked about the Prime Minister's meeting with Ian Paisley this morning, the PMOS said that it was part of the Prime Minister's stocktake of progress on the Good Friday Agreement review that was currently taking place in Stormont. He pointed out that the Prime Minister had also met with David Trimble and would be seeing the SDLP and the Taoiseach later this week. It was a chance for him to engage with the parties while the review was taking place.
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) advised journalists that the Prime Minister would be meeting Ian Paisley today to take stock of progress in the review of the Good Friday Agreement. The Prime Minister would be seeing the SDLP on Wednesday afternoon. He would also be meeting the Taoiseach for dinner this week to discuss Northern Ireland, as well as European issues given the fact that Ireland currently held the EU Presidency.
Constitutional Reforms/Supreme Court
Asked the Prime Minister's reaction to apparent threats from the Lords to hold up the Constitutional Reform Bill, the PMOS said that any Government was elected to make decisions and bring forward legislation which it believed would improve our country. A consultation on the constitutional reform proposals had taken place over the course of four months. We believed it was the right thing to do for reasons we had set out many times. In our view, it would increase transparency, remove patronage and abolish the role of the Lord Chancellor, thereby ensuring that the focus of the individual with that responsibility could be far more narrowly drawn on issues of delivery relating to the courts. The Supreme Court would separate the judiciary from the legislature, with that separation enshrined in law. The Government had decided to introduce the Bill in the Lords so that they could conduct their proper role of scrutinising and improving the Bill. However, the amendment being proposed would essentially kick it into the long grass by setting up a Committee. This was a procedural device which had not been used since 1975 and we regarded the move as a delaying tactic. We would have to await the result of the vote tonight before deciding how to take things forward.
Asked for a reaction to comments from Steve Moxon, an employee at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, who had claimed that figures on immigration from Eastern Europe were being massaged, the PMOS said that he had nothing further to add to the Home Office's statement yesterday. Ministers at the Department had not allowed any special exercise to process applications quickly from nationals from EU accession countries in order to meet a 1 May deadline. There was clearly concern at the allegations that had been made and Ministers were investigating immediately. Asked why concern was only being expressed now - after Mr Moxon had gone public, the PMOS said that it wasn't his job to account for internal processes. He didn't know them. He was simply making the point that since someone had made some allegations, Ministers had asked for an immediate investigation. That was surely the sensible thing to do. He said that we were sometimes criticised for responding too quickly or dismissively to allegations. In this instance, it was right they were being looked at. That was not to comment on their veracity. Asked if the investigation would be carried out in public or in private, the PMOS said that it would be undertaken internally by the Home Office. Put to him that it should be done in public, the PMOS said that in the first instance it was right for Ministers to enquire of their Department about the allegations that had been made. A decision regarding any next steps would be taken once that process had been completed if it was appropriate.
In answer to questions about the British detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the PMOS said that as we had maintained from the outset, this was a complex issue. Discussions were continuing with the US regarding their future, although they had concluded in relation to five of them. Each circumstance was different. Asked when the five detainees were due to return to the UK, the PMOS said he thought it could be at some point this week. Asked about the fate of the remaining four, the PMOS said that there were two options, both of which were well known to journalists.
Questioned as to whether a breakthrough or an announcement on the Middle East was expected imminently in the light of the number of meetings with key figures that had taken place in Downing Street and Chequers in the last few days, the PMOS said that nothing had changed since the last time he had been asked this question at the end of last week. The meetings had not been sequenced in the way they had deliberately. That said, they did underline a determination from all parties to move the process forward, although we acknowledged that there had been a further setback at the weekend. We had never overstated the UK's influence in these matters. However, we were obviously in contact with all the major parties and were continuing to work hard to do all we could to reinvigorate the process. The meetings did not preview any major announcement.
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