Asked the Prime Minister's reaction to the pictures of the Iraqi POWs which had been widely publicised today, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the US army spokesman, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, had said this morning that he was appalled and that those responsible had let their fellow soldiers down. Those were views with which the UK Government would associate itself. At the same time, we would also associate ourselves with the view that this was not representative of the 150,000 soldiers who were in Iraq. People should not judge the Coalition as a whole on the actions of a few. However, what had happened was regrettable, to say the least. Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to President Bush about the pictures, the PMOS said that these were matters which the US Administration and the US military were dealing with.
Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with Neil Kinnock's call for a second referendum should there be a no vote, the PMOS said that the position on this issue had not changed. A no vote would mean entering into unknown territory, the only guarantee being that the Government would be facing a serious situation. As the Prime Minister had underlined from the outset, the Government would go into the referendum intending to win it.
Asked when the Prime Minister was intending to step down, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that he had nothing further to add to what had already been said about this matter. The Prime Minister himself had dealt with the issue in his recent News of the World interview and in his Frost interview last September. Asked if the PMOS was still 'incandescent', the PMOS said that he wouldn't have used that word to describe himself last night when journalists had contacted him about this non-story. 'Sleepy' was probably more accurate.
Asked for a reaction to President Chirac's comment today that EU members should ratify the Constitution within two years of it being agreed or face a decision on their status within the EU, the PMOS said that that was the first he had heard of the proposal. As he had said this morning, if the Treaty was agreed this summer, we would go into the referendum to win it. However, if there was a no vote, it should be understood that we would be entering into unknown territory. In answer to further questions about President Chirac's remarks, the PMOS said that the comment clearly illustrated the difficult circumstances we would be facing were there to be a no vote.
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS)) drew journalists' attention to the teacher workforce figures which had been published today. Despite predictions to the contrary, they showed that teaching numbers had increased by 4,200 in the last year and that there were 28,600 more than in 1997. The number of teaching assistants had also doubled since 1997. There were now more teachers in schools than at any time since 1981.
Asked for a reaction to Valery Giscard D'Estaing's comment this morning that the UK would not be kicked out of Europe if there was a no vote in the referendum, the PMOS said that M. Giscard D'Estaing was a former chairman of the Convention on the Future of Europe which had now been disbanded. As we had underlined repeatedly, if the Treaty was agreed this summer, the Government would go into the referendum with the intention of winning. If there was a no vote, we would be entering into the unknown and it would therefore be unhelpful to speculate about how the issue might be taken forward.
Asked for a reaction to reports that the Prime Minister had despatched senior Cabinet Ministers to crush speculation that he was going to step down, the PMOS said that anyone who had phoned Downing Street Press Officers about this matter last night would have been able to tell from the surprise in their voices what the answer to the question was.
Asked what message the Foreign Secretary would give over to cricket chiefs during his meeting with them today, the PMOS said that the cricket chiefs were well aware of the Government's view on touring Zimbabwe because we had been talking to them continuously throughout this whole issue and updating them on the situation there. The question as to whether they should tour or not was a matter for them. Governments were unable to instruct cricketers, or any other individuals, as to whether to travel to certain countries or not.
Asked to comment on reports that British army chiefs were reluctant to send more troops to Iraq either to serve under US commanders or in areas under US control, the PMOS said that as the Prime Minister had underlined several times this week, the issue was kept under constant review. He had nothing further to say as he did not intend to add to the speculation about this matter.
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