Asked about an explosion in Basra this morning, which had injured thirteen British soldiers, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that he had no further details about the incident other than the fact that we were not aware of any fatalities at this stage. He advised journalists to remain in contact with the MoD. He said that the Prime Minister had been informed about the explosion earlier this afternoon.
Asked if the Prime Minister had had anyone specific in mind when he had talked about the issue of protectionism and the US, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had been making the British case for the importance of free trade. Put to him that the Prime Minister's view would appear to contrast with John Kerry's position, the PMOS advised journalists not to over-interpret his words through a US political election prism. Asked the last time the Prime Minister had made a big speech on the economy, the PMOS reminded journalists that the Prime Minister had addressed the CBI last autumn.
The PMOS advised journalists that the Prime Minister would be making a speech on the economy today at Goldman Sachs. He would reinforce the Budget message that the Government would hold firm to economic stability, but use the fruits of that stability to invest in education, skills and science to ensure that prosperity was entrenched and spread. He would argue that the macro-economic stability that we had, and flexible labour markets, had allowed the UK to close the productivity gap with Germany and France, as well as lifting many families out of poverty and delivering rising living standards. The majority of the speech would be 'forward looking' to the challenges ahead for the country. He would warn that the pace of globalisation - the truly astonishing economic development
The PMOS said that the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach would be in Belfast tomorrow where he would meet with the parties. Both leaders wanted to inject some momentum into the process based on the clear need to end paramilitarism and a commitment to share power if that was achieved. Tomorrow should be seen in the context of playing to the work in progress. It was not a 'make-or- break' event which would run late on into Wednesday, but should be seen as reinforcing work in progress.
Asked for a reaction to the latest developments in Israel this morning, the PMOS said the Prime Minister believed that it was important for everyone to redouble their efforts to try to find a way forward in the Middle East. This morning's events were clearly a setback. The Foreign Secretary had already commented in Brussels on what had happened. His words spoke for themselves. It went without saying that the Prime Minister also condemned today's killing.
Asked if we were anticipating any progress on the European Constitution at the European Council in Brussels at the end of the week, the PMOS said that the stumbling block at the previous European Council last December had been the issue of vote-weighting. The Irish Presidency had been conducting talks with the countries at the sharp end of that particular debate. People would have to be patient and wait for their report to the Council. No one had ever anticipated that there would be an agreement on the issue or conclusion of the IGC this week. Asked if he was indicating that it would be a 'reporting' rather than a 'decision-making' summit, the PMOS said that by the end of the Council, he thought there would be a clearer sense of whether the Irish Presidency considered it worthwhile to push for the conclusion of the IGC in the first half of this year.
Asked for a reaction to Jimmy Carter's comment in today's Independent' that the war in Iraq had been based on lies, the PMOS pointed out that several inquiries into the Iraq war had taken place, not least the Hutton Inquiry which had looked very carefully at the issue of integrity. The Butler Inquiry on intelligence matters was currently carrying out its work. He drew journalists' attention to the fact that UN Resolution 1441 had been the considered view of the entire international community. Whilst there might have been disagreement regarding how the issue of Iraq's WMD should be dealt with, there had never been any disagreement about the fact that the issue should be dealt with.
Asked for a reaction to reports over the weekend about the introduction of ID cards, the PMOS said the Home Office had said yesterday that it would not comment on leaked papers in the Sunday press. The position remained as we had set out on previous occasions - a draft Bill would be published in due course. The Cabinet believed in principle that an ID card scheme could bring major benefits to the UK. However, given the complexities, a number of issues would have to be addressed before such a scheme could be brought forward. Regarding the issue of leaked documents in general, the PMOS added that the fact that members of the Government were able to have discussions and correspondence with one another was a strength of our democracy. It shouldn't always be characterised as splits, rows or division, although that obviously made far better headlines. Asked if the Cabinet would need to approve any ID card scheme, the PMOS said yes. We had already stated that we would proceed by incremental steps, with the final decision to a compulsory card scheme being taken later when all the conditions had been met. He pointed out that there had already been two lengthy Cabinet discussions about the issue in recent months. No doubt it was something the Cabinet would return to in due course.
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