» Thursday, June 21, 2007


The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) began the briefing by informing journalists that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor would be holding a conference call with the German Chancellor Merkel today. He then proceeded to describe this morning’s Cabinet meeting:

There was a discussion on the EU where the Prime Minister again reiterated his four red lines, and said that all four would have to be achieved, otherwise he was prepared to walk away from a deal.

The second half of Cabinet was taken up with a series of tributes to the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister since this was their last Cabinet. At the end of Cabinet, the Prime Minister was given a standing ovation by his colleagues as he left the room. In fact the only way to bring the standing ovation to an end was for him to leave the room! Asked how long the ovation went on for, the PMOS replied that it went on for quite a long time.

Jack Straw opened by paying tribute first to the Deputy Prime Minister, saying that he had helped transform the infrastructure of this country and in particular he singled out the Channel Tunnel, which he said would not have been possible with out the leadership of John Prescott, and he praised him for his courage. Secondly Jack Straw said of the Prime Minister that history would look back on him as one of the most successful Prime Ministers ever. That he had faced up to the difficult decisions that needed to be taken for the country, and as a result had made this country a better place. The example he gave in particular was the difference in attitude towards prejudice in this country, whether racial or gender. And that he had helped create a society where people were at ease with themselves and their differences. He said that it had been an astonishing privilege to serve under the Prime Minister.

David Miliband spoke, much of what he said was political, but he did single out Northern Ireland as a major achievement of the Prime Minister.

The Chancellor then spoke, and said that people would look back in 100 years time and see the achievements of the Prime Minister which had changed this country for good. He said that those achievements were historic and would prove to be enduring. Amongst them he listed Northern Ireland, the way in which the Prime Minister had responded to 7/7 and the threat of terrorism, the Olympics, the minimum wage, the fairness agenda including introducing civil partnerships, the way in which public services had been transformed, and the Prime Minister’s leadership on the world’s stage, in particular over the issues of poverty and climate change at the G8. And he said, "Whatever we achieve in the future, will be because we are standing on your shoulders". He said that he personally was proud to serve both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister.

Hilary Armstrong presented the Deputy Prime Minister with his present – a print of Admiralty House. John Prescott then responding saying that he was immensely proud of all the Government had achieved, and that he would walk out of office with his head held high.

Tessa Jowell then presented the Prime Minister with his present – a painting of Chequers. The Prime Minister then responded by first paying tribute to both John Reid and Hilary Armstrong, whose last Cabinet this was also today. He paid tribute to his staff and to the Civil Service at large, saying that we should be proud to have an impartial Civil Service. He described John Prescott as a wonderful colleague, paying tribute to his intelligence and his shrewdness, and said that history would see how significant a part he played in his premiership. Of the Chancellor he said that he had the qualities to make a great Prime Minister, and said that he would have his unswerving support. The Prime Minister finished by saying that this was the right moment to go. It was at this point that he was given a standing ovation.

Asked if there had been any tears or displays of affection, the PMOS replied that it was a very affectionate occasion, but it was also a very good humoured occasion. While undoubtedly there was some sadness, the overall mood was one of good humour, and very warm affection. Asked if those were the only presents, PMOS replied that they were. Asked if the Cabinet paid for the presents, the PMOS replied that that was his understanding.

Asked if the subject of Iraq was raised, the PMOS replied that Iraq was mentioned as one of the difficult decisions that the Prime Minister has faced up to, as was Afghanistan. Asked if the Chancellor mentioned Iraq with reference to his 100 years tribute, the PMOS replied that the Chancellor mentioned both Iraq and Afghanistan. Asked if the Prime Minister mentioned Iraq, the PMOS replied that the Prime Minister did mention Iraq. Everyone recognised that those were difficult decisions that had to be faced up to. Asked it there were no regrets, the PMOS replied that there was no expression of regret.

Asked if the Prime Minister commented on how he would like to be remembered, the PMOS replied that the Prime Minister had expressed the view often enough that he believed that it was for others to make that judgement rather than him.

Asked if the Prime Minister made any mention of the contribution of his family, the PMOS replied that that was not the was not the case – this was primarily about the Prime Minister’s colleagues paying tribute to him, and him paying tribute to the work they do.

Asked if there was any discussion, hints or revelations about the Prime Minister’s plans for the future, the PMOS replied that there was not.

Asked if any official recording of the event was made, the PMOS replied that Sir Gus O’Donnell always produced a note of the Cabinet.

Asked how long the tributes lasted for, the PMOS replied that Cabinet lasted about an hour, and the tributes were for about half an hour. Asked again if there were any tears, the PMOS replied that there were not. Asked if there were any cheers, the PMOS replied that there was applause. Asked if there was any "desk banging", the PMOS replied that there was applause. People had due regard for the age of the Cabinet table.

Asked if they were supposed to make anything of the pecking order of the tributes, the PMOS replied only that they were representative of the range of age and experience of the Cabinet.

Asked if there was any mention of Paddy Ashdown, the PMOS replied that there was not. Asked if Paddy Ashdown was at Cabinet, the PMOS said no.

Briefing took place at 9:00 | Search for related news

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