Asked if other British troops would replace Black Watch at the end of their current tour of duty, the PMOS said that as the Prime Minister had pointed out, it would depend on the circumstances at the time. It would also depend on the progress that was made in terms of normalising the situation on the ground in places like Fallujah. It was important for people to recognise that an agreement had been reached as to how Black Watch would be used, where they were used and the timespan in which they were used. As the Prime Minister had made clear, we wanted to see stability in Iraq so that elections could be held next year. As part of that process, voter registration was due to begin next week. Asked if the Prime Minister's pledge to ensure that Black Watch would return home by Christmas was also an assurance that there would be no British troops in the Hillah region at that time, the PMOS said that he really did not want to have another debate with the Lobby about the meaning of Christmas (or even the Meaning of Christmas). It was entirely reasonable for Black Watch troops and their families to know when they could expect to return home. That was precisely what the Prime Minister's pledge had been designed to do. No other decisions had been taken about any other commitment after that.
Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to European Commission President-elect Barroso today, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister and Mr Barroso hadn't spoken today as far as he was aware, although they had been in contact during the course of the week. It went without saying that the Prime Minister fully supported Mr Barroso's attempts to try to resolve the matter. The reception Mr Barroso had received from the European Parliament this morning showed that there was a willingness by MEPs to support him as he attempted to resolve the issue. How he would do so, however, was primarily a matter for him. We could offer our help and support, but we would not interfere in that process. Asked if the Prime Minister would speak to Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy today, the PMOS said that he was not aware of any plans for him to do so. That said, European leaders would be attending the signing of the European Constitution Treaty in Rome on Friday when they would no doubt meet up informally. However, there was no 'crisis meeting' planned to discuss the matter.
Referring to the report on British American Tobacco (BAT) in today's Guardian, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) pointed out that that the alleged 'secret meeting' giving BAT 'privileged access' to the Prime Minister was, in fact, an annual meeting which the Prime Minister held with the chairmen of multi-nationals. It was entirely routine. The purpose of the meetings was to discuss broad world economic matters. The last meeting had taken place this month when those attending had discussed Africa, amongst other issues. Contrary to what had been reported, the issue of a DTI investigation had not been raised at the meeting referred to by the Guardian.
Asked to confirm reports that Black Watch was on the move in Iraq today, the PMOS said that he had nothing to add to what the MoD had said about this matter. They had confirmed that British troops were on the move. However, we would not be briefing on where they were going or on any other operational details for obvious security reasons. Asked if the Prime Minister wished Black Watch luck in their tour of duty, the PMOS said it went without saying that the Prime Minister wished them well.
Asked for a reaction to European Commission President-elect Barroso's announcement this morning, the PMOS said that Mr Barroso had asked the European Parliament for more time to resolve the problems relating to the membership of the new European Commission. We supported the efforts he was making to reach agreement. Indeed, the reception he had received in the European Parliament this morning suggested that there was broad support for the way he was handling the matter. Obviously we would do everything we could to help resolve the situation. That said, it was primarily a matter for Mr Barroso and the European Parliament to sort out. Asked if the Prime Minister would use his influence to put pressure on Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy to withdraw Rocco Buttiglione and nominate someone else, the PMOS repeated that this was primarily a matter for Mr Barroso to deal with, although we would of course remain in contact with him and continue to offer him our help and support. We had already provided some advice and expressed a view to him. However, we would not be briefing on that or any other communication because it was private. Asked if the Prime Minister would speak to the Italian Prime Minister if Mr Barroso asked him to do so, the PMOS said that he had no intention of briefing or commenting on private conversations the Prime Minister might or might not have with Mr Barroso. Suffice it to say that the Prime Minister and Mr Barroso were in regular contact, as you would expect. Asked to confirm reports of a special meeting between Mr Barroso and European leaders in Rome on Friday ahead of the signing of the EU Constitution Treaty, the PMOS said that he was not aware of any plans for such a meeting. It was up to Mr Barroso to decide how he wanted to move forward on this issue and to set out the sort of timescale he had in mind. If he wanted to consult us or any other EU member, he was perfectly entitled to do so. Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to Prime Minister Berlusconi today, the PMOS said not as far as he was aware. Questioned as to whether the two Prime Ministers were scheduled to have a bilateral in Rome on Friday, the PMOS said that he was not aware of any such plans.
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