European Commission President
Asked what part the Prime Minister would play in the 'yes' campaign for the referendum, the PMOS pointed out that the Treaty had only been signed on Friday night. Once the formalities had been dealt with we would be able to address other questions. Asked if the campaign would be backed by the Government as a whole, the PMOS cautioned journalists against jumping too far ahead of the game. It was important to take things one step at a time. Put to him that the Chancellor had told the World At One today that the Prime Minister would lead the campaign, the PMOS said it was obvious that the Prime Minister would lead it. However, it would be premature to try to nail down the details at this stage. Asked if the campaign would be cross-party, the PMOS said yes. However, he was unable to provide further details at this time. Asked if the campaign would be state-funded, the PMOS said that an announcement would be made by the appropriate authorities in due course. Asked if a 'no' campaign would be state-funded, the PMOS urged journalists to exercise a little patience. Put to him that it was a matter of principle, the PMOS said that it wasn't; it was a matter of process. In answer to further questions, the PMOS said that there were rules governing the holding of referendums. They would be announced in the appropriate way at the appropriate time. Asked to clarify the rules, the PMOS said that they would be set out in due course. Asked if he was saying that he didn't know what they were or that he did know but was not prepared to say, the PMOS said that he was simply making the point that they would be announced in the proper way as part of a general announcement about the referendum.
Asked about the Prime Minister's Statement to the House this afternoon on the European Council, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that he had no intention of pre-empting it. That said, as the Prime Minister had underlined on Friday night, he regarded the Treaty as a success for both Britain and Europe. He also believed it showed that if we worked with our European partners, we could be at home in Europe and be able to fulfil our national interests at the same time as continuing to work for the prosperity, security and stability of Europe as a whole.
European Commission President
Asked if Downing Street was anticipating a further European Summit to discuss nominations for the job of European Commission President, the PMOS said that we would not rule out the possibility, although it was ultimately up to the Irish Presidency to decide how they wanted to play it. Obviously it was important that whoever emerged as the Commission President did so as the result of a genuine consultation with the Heads of Government of all twenty-five EU member states. The Taoiseach was currently engaged in that process and it would therefore be premature to speculate about the outcome until he had completed his initial round of consultations.
Asked the point of the Prime Minister's meeting with the Taoiseach on Friday, the PMOS said that the process of driving forward the peace process in Northern Ireland might have slowed but had certainly not come to a full stop. It was therefore important to continue to drive it forward to success, because the present stalemate was not in anyone's interests. On Friday we would need to assess where we were and establish a framework for future action and work to go on behind the scenes. This would be done in keeping with the principles which the Prime Minister had set out clearly in a speech in Northern Ireland in October 2002 in which he had said that there should be both a genuine end to all paramilitary activity and a genuine democracy which shared power between the communities. Those two objectives were our goal. Friday was simply a staging post on the way to attaining it. The need to keep driving the process forward was paramount because everyone was aware of what happened when vacuums were created in Northern Ireland.
Asked to confirm reports that the Government was proposing to extend the retirement age, the PMOS said that a consultation exercise on pensions was currently taking place. However, we were not in the business of forcing people to work past the age of sixty five, despite this morning's headlines. Rather we wanted to ensure that people were not discriminated against on the basis of age. That was a very important distinction to make.
Asked if the Prime Minister believed that the law on smacking should be changed, the PMOS said the Prime Minister did not think that there should be a law banning parents from smacking their children. Asked if the Prime Minister might hold a free vote on the issue, the PMOS repeated that the Prime Minister did not believe that the Government should ban parents from smacking their children.
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