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.
Asked the Prime Minister's reaction to the news that DJ John Peel had died, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the Prime Minister was genuinely saddened by the news. He believed that John Peel was a genuine one-off. Whether on Radio 1 or Radio 4, he was a unique voice in British broadcasting who had used that voice to unearth new talent and different subjects and make them accessible to a much wider audience. The Prime Minister knew that he would be missed by everyone.
Asked to comment on Peers' apparent readiness to consider a compromise on the issue of hunting, the PMOS said that the Hunting Bill was being debated in the House of Lords today. We would wait and see what the outcome would be. As he had told journalists this morning, the Prime Minister thought that the compromise option proposed by Alun Michael had been a way forward. However, he recognised that the issue would be put to a free vote and that the House of Lords was entitled to come to its own conclusions. Asked to explain how a compromise could be agreed when the issue was about whether to ban hunting with dogs or not, the PMOS said that the compromise approach put forward by Mr Michael involved licensing the sport. We had seen what the reaction of the House of Commons had been. We were now awaiting the outcome of discussions in the House of Lords. We would take the issue one stage at a time. Asked if the Prime Minister would be prepared to vote this time for the Alun Michael compromise if it returned to the House, the PMOS said that he did not think it would be helpful to speculate about what might or might not happen. He had simply been reminding journalists what the Prime Minister's position was on the this issue. Put to him that the Prime Minister's position was clear inasmuch as he hadn't bothered to vote on the issue in the past, the PMOS repeated that we would wait and see how things panned out. There was no point engaging in speculation at this stage.
Asked if the Prime Minister supported the right of MEPs to block the appointment of a member of the new European Commission, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the Prime Minister, together with other European leaders, supported European Commission President-elect Barroso whom the European Council had appointed unanimously to the post in July. The Prime Minister had obviously been in contact with Mr Barroso to discuss recent developments and fully supported his efforts to achieve a resolution. Ultimately, however, this was a matter primarily for the European Commission and European Parliament to sort out. Asked if the Prime Minister supported the appointment of Rocco Buttiglione of Italy as a European Commissioner, the PMOS said that this was a matter for Mr Barroso and the European Parliament. He had nothing further to say about the matter.
Asked if the Prime Minister had any plans next week to promote the Middle East peace process in the light of the Knesset vote today on the Israeli Prime Minister's disengagement plan and the forthcoming US presidential elections, the PMOS said that it was important to allow the Knesset vote and US elections to take place on their own terms. However, as the Prime Minister had been emphasising for some time, he remained committed personally to regaining momentum in the Middle East peace process and to trying to push it forward. As he had underlined many times, it was important to move forward in a way which both reassured Israel about its security and recognised the legitimate aspiration of the Palestinians.
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