Asked if the Prime Minister was still intending to hold his monthly press conference tomorrow, the PMOS said yes. Asked if there was any significance in the fact that it was due to begin at 12.30pm instead of midday as usual, the PMOS said no. He pointed out that there was only a half hour's difference.
Asked precisely when the Prime Minister had been informed about the withdrawal of intelligence, the PMOS said that he had dealt with this matter last week. He had nothing further to add. Asked if the Foreign Secretary had told him, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had found out as a result of the Butler Inquiry. He had nothing more to say on the issue.
Asked if the Prime Minister was working on the reshuffle today, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS0 said that it wasn't our policy to respond to reshuffle questions. However, he was able to confirm that the Prime Minister was having a reasonably busy day today, as was usual on a Wednesday. Asked about the prospect of a reshuffle tomorrow, the PMOS pointed out that the Prime Minister would be holding his monthly press conference at 12.30pm. Put to him that the reshuffle could come after that, the PMOS cautioned journalists against getting too far ahead of themselves. We would deal with one section of the day at a time.
Written Ministerial Statements
Asked if the forty five Written Ministerial Statements on the Order Paper today was a sign of good governance, the PMOS said it was not the first time that there was a bit of 'bunching' at this time of year, and nor would it be the last. Such a phenomenon an inevitable fact of political life.
Asked for a reaction to today's Guardian splash regarding a DfID report expressing Government alarm over the US losing interest in the Middle East peace process, the PMOS said that there was a lot of activity going on behind the scenes at this stage of the process. It was therefore important for people to not to mistake the lack of public action for inaction. Asked if he was referring to the International Development Secretary, Hilary Benn, who had signed off the report, the PMOS said no. He pointed out that the report outlined a number of scenarios. It did not state categorically that a particular course of action was being taken. We believed that people were continuing to engage on this issue and that discussions were taking place behind the scenes. As we knew from our experience in Northern Ireland, there were periods when a lot could be going on in the background which people might not necessarily be aware of.
Asked the Prime Minister's opinion on why he hadn't been told by the Foreign Secretary in September 2003 that a key piece of evidence had been withdrawn, the PMOS said that as the Foreign Secretary had made clear in the House last night, a pro forma request had been put to him in September 2003 for this information to be passed to the ISC. This underlined the fact that, at that point, the information was being regarded as operationally sensitive. In addition, as we had made clear throughout last week, the piece of intelligence in question was just one element of the whole picture on chemical and biological weapons (CBW), not the only one. Asked if he was implying that the Prime Minister had not been told because the information had been considered operationally sensitive, the PMOS said no. He was simply making the point that the particular piece of intelligence under scrutiny was only one element of the overall picture on CBW.
Asked if the appointment of Britain's new EU Commissioner needed to be announced before Parliament rose for the summer recess, the PMOS said that a decision had to be made before the end of this month. Put to him that a by-election 'writ' would have to be moved before the end of the current session were a sitting MP to be appointed, the PMOS observed that there were a number of assumptions contained in the question, none of which he had any intention of responding to. He thought it would be better for journalists to exercise a little patience and wait for an announcement to be made.
Asked what was new in the Prime Minister's opening remarks to the debate on Iraq in the House of Commons this afternoon, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said we had never claimed that people would hear any new argument because the Prime Minister had been consistent in his view as to why the war in Iraq had been right. The only new thing today was his response to the Butler Report in terms of his announcement relating to the formal establishment of an ad hoc Cabinet Committee to deal with any future situation, in addition to the announcement of the new JIC chairman on an interim basis and then a permanent appointment to be made in 2005 under the criteria set down by Lord Butler. Asked if the Prime Minister had been signalling the end of "Government-by-sofa", the PMOS said that he had simply been referring to a formalisation of the process which was already taking place.
Asked why the Prime Minister had changed his diary arrangements for this morning, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said he wasn't aware that he had. He pointed out that this afternoon's debate on Iraq in the House of Commons had been a late addition to his diary, so any changes that might have been made to his schedule were likely to relate to the need to prepare for that.
Asked if a reshuffle was going to take place today, the PMOS said he had nothing to add to what he hadn't said yesterday about this issue. He pointed out that the Prime Minister would be having a busy afternoon with the debate on Iraq in the House. Asked about the Prime Minister's engagements for tomorrow apart from PMQs, the PMOS said that tomorrow was another day. Asked if the Prime Minister would be on the frontbench for the Defence Secretary's Statement, the PMOS said he was not aware of any plans for him to be present at this stage.
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