» Monday, December 4, 2006


Asked by the BBC to explain the purpose of this Cabinet meeting, as presumably, the White Paper had already been printed, the PMOS replied that people should see this process all the way through. We had had an initial Cabinet meeting, at which Cabinet discussed the context for the decision, i.e. was this the time to be considering getting rid of our nuclear deterrent? There was then a series of one-on-one talks between Cabinet Ministers and the Defence Secretary and the Foreign Secretary in which the options were explored and discussed. The Cabinet meeting today would be precisely to discuss it and agree the conclusions of those discussions, and to formally decide the Government’s position. That would then be included in the White Paper which would be published this afternoon. The PMOS said that there would then be a period of discussion, followed by a vote in Parliament.

Asked if the White Paper had been printed yet, the PMOS said that he did not get into discussing the procedural mechanisms of printing.

Asked what the point of the Cabinet meeting was if the White Paper had been printed, the PMOS said this was a meeting at which formal decisions would be taken; a formal decision had not been taken to this point. Equally, there had been prolonged discussions within Cabinet, as well as between Cabinet members.

Put by the BBC that surely the decision was actually about spending a lot of money upgrading the nuclear equipment, and that it was a false choice, the PMOS replied that it was not a false choice, and this afternoon would set out that choice. The PMOS what the White Paper would set out, and what the prime Minister would set out in his statement was precisely why we did have to address the question now of whether this was the time to get rid of the nuclear deterrent, and why that question had to be addressed now. The PMOS said that it was because of the long lead times involved in designing, building and making operational, a new generation of deterrents. That was part of the backdrop of the first Cabinet meeting, and of the discussions thereafter between Cabinet colleagues.

Asked if there would be a vote at Cabinet, the PMOS replied that Cabinet operated by consensus.

Asked to explain why the vote in the Commons was going to be a "take it or leave it" one, the PMOS replied that White Papers did not provide options, but rather, they provided a proposal. This was one of the most serious decisions that any government could take, as it was fundamentally a decision about how to protect the country. Therefore, it was right and proper that the Government took on itself the duty to put a firm proposal to Parliament, and for Parliament to go from there.

Asked to comment on the 20% cut on warheads, the PMOS said that it was a fact that this country now relied on a single form of deterrent, unlike other countries. We have tried to keep that deterrent to a minimum, but people should wait for the White Paper.

Asked why the decision about Trident was happening now, the PMOS said that it was about the long lead times going from the concept to operational. That did take a specific period of time, but it would be set out in detail this afternoon.

Put that it would take nine or ten years for a new Trident to become operational, so why now, the PMOS said that as people would see from the analysis, it was a long lead time from concept to operational, including the design stage.

Asked how much the potential threat from North Korea, Iran etc contributed to the Prime Minister’s decision to act now, the PMOS replied that part of the context on which we had to operate was not just an uncertain world, but an uncertain world in which it was believed that other countries who were far from stable democracies, were trying to acquire nuclear weaponry. That was part of the reality of the world in which we lived.

Asked if the Prime Minister disagreed with the argument that by modernising our nuclear deterrent, we were effectively giving a green light to other countries to pursue their own nuclear deterrents, the PMOS replied that in terms of the detailed argument, people should wait for the Prime Minister’s statement. The PMOS posed two questions: what evidence was there other countries were waiting to see what we were going to do before they pursued their own ends, and also, what other countries who did have nuclear deterrents were seen to be willing to give them up.

Asked if we were confident that by renewing our nuclear deterrents, we were not breaking the treaty, the PMOS said that what we were doing currently was legal, and anything that we would propose would obviously be legal as well.

Asked to confirm that the Cabinet discussion today was the first time they had discussed the way in which they might keep the nuclear deterrent, rather than the context in which a decision had to be taken, the PMOS replied that the first discussion was primarily, (but not exclusively) about the context. There had been detailed discussions about the options between the Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Cabinet colleagues. The PMOS said that he therefore did not think that the discussion today would be traversing new ground as such.

Asked again by the BBC if this was the first time Cabinet as a whole had discussed the issue, and that they wanted an on the record response, the PMOS said that the journalist was trying to back him into a corner and he was being too black and white, as a discussion of the context also related to people doing so in the knowledge of what the options were. Therefore, this had been a developing conversation which started off on the broad picture, which was the right place to start at the first Cabinet. It then went into detailed discussions that looked at all the options between the Defence Secretary, the Foreign Secretary and individual Ministers. Today’s discussion went onto the formalising of the position, so it had been an evolving process of discussion.

Asked if the discussions that the Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretaries had had were on the basis of requests that anyone who was worried about the issue could go to see them about it, the PMOS replied that it was a process that was set up at and around the time of the initial discussion.

How were the one-on-ones selected, the PMOS replied that he did not get into the process of discussing the diary arrangements of Cabinet Ministers. It was a process that the Prime Minister had set up so that all individual Cabinet Ministers could all be briefed on the detail of the discussion.

Asked if it would be fair to describe today’s Cabinet meeting as a formality, the PMOS said it would not be fair, as it was a discussion and a formal decision.

Asked if it was true that members of the Cabinet last week did not know that there was to be a White Paper printed today, the PMOS replied that he did not get into discussing printing arrangements, nor did he get into discussing the detailed content of Cabinet.

Asked if the Prime Minister was setting up a specific process for a wider debate in Parliament, the PMOS said that people would have the chance to read the White Paper in detail, and that would go forward to a proper Parliamentary debate. That was how we did things in this country.

Briefing took place at 16:00 | Search for related news

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