The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman briefed journalists about the Chancellor's Budget. The PMOS said that the Chancellor had given a Budget presentation to the Cabinet this morning. The Chancellor had set out how the UK economy was enjoying its longest period of uninterrupted economic growth, with 2.4 million more jobs than in 1997. However, the presentation had made clear that with global competition growing - especially from India and China - the Government could not afford to be complacent, or for there to be any relaxation of fiscal discipline.
Asked what the Prime Minister wanted from the European Council, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the Spring Council was now almost always an economic council. As such we would like to see this council take forward the agenda set out at Hampton Court, which was on energy and energy co-operation in Europe as well as further economic reform. Precisely where we got to would be down to the Austrian presidency, but those were the priorities we had identified going into the council.
Asked for a reaction to the ETA ceasefire and whether we supported the Spanish government opening talks with ETA, the PMOS said that we welcomed the ETA statement and we now hoped to see the commitments made in their statement delivered in practice. Any internal decisions that may need to be made about talks were entirely a matter for the Spanish government. One thing we had learnt in Northern Ireland was that it could be useful to have external support but the detail had to be sorted out between the parties on the ground. This would guide our approach.
David Cameron meeting
Jack Straw statement-terrorism
Asked about Jack Straw's comments during his statement yesterday regarding British nationals being caught up overseas in terrorist attacks and the financial support offered to them, and was he disagreeing with the Prime Minister about it not being an everyday occurrence, the PMOS said that unfortunately, terrorism was a fact of life in the modern world. In terms of incidents directly affecting British people abroad, the Foreign Secretary was correct, and fortunately, it was not an everyday occurrence. That did not mean, however, that when it did happen to those individuals, it did not have a devastating impact, as it did, and the Foreign Secretary had acknowledged that fact. As the Prime Minister pointed out yesterday, terrorism affected some 30 to 40 other countries as well, therefore nothing that the Foreign Secretary had said cut across what the Prime Minister had said.
Duchy of Lancaster
Asked if a new Duchy of Lancaster could be expected before tomorrow evening, the PMOS said that his focus would be on the European Council and the trip after that. In response to the suggestion that we did not really need one now, the PMOS said that that reshuffle question had such a thin veneer on it that the journalist was in danger of being hauled up on the trade descriptions act.
Next Foreign Policy Speech
Asked about the second speech, the PMOS said that it would primarily focus on the importance of global alliances and clearly Australia was part of that given their role in Iraq.
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