» Wednesday, June 27, 2007

New Prime Minister

The Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) began the briefing by introducing himself and reaffirmed that future briefings will be on the record. He then talked Lobby through what had been happening at Downing Street since the new Prime Minister arrived earlier this afternoon. The Prime Minister was clapped in by Downing Street staff as was traditional, and had an initial meeting with the Cabinet Secretary. In his first act as Prime Minister he revoked the Orders of Council granting powers to special advisors to give instructions to civil servants. The Prime Minister then had a series of phone calls with foreign leaders. The first call was to President Bush, it was cordial and constructive lasting around 10 minutes, and built on the discussions they had in Washington. The Prime Minister then spoke to President Sarkozy, Bertie Ahern, Chancellor Merkel and Romano Prodi. He had of course been speaking to President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel in recent weeks. The Prime Minister spoke to the two leaders of the main opposition parties David Cameron and Menzies Campbell. The call to David Cameron was courteous and businesslike.

The PMS informed Lobby that the Treasury had announced that the Chancellor, as he then was, appointed Tony Blair to the Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds, and therefore that he would be stepping down as an MP.

The PMS announced that a full list of senior staff appointments had been published on the Downing Street website.

The PMS then ran through the timetable for the next few days. The reshuffle and announcement of the new Cabinet would be expected at around lunchtime tomorrow. Non-Cabinet appointments would come on Friday, and when people saw the Government as a whole they would be able to put in context the Chancellor’s words on inviting men and women of good will, to contribute their energies to a new spirit of public service.

The PMS added that we were not in a position to confirm Cabinet appointments, the intention was to announce the reshuffle tomorrow around lunchtime.

Asked to confirm that Patricia Hewitt would be leaving the Cabinet, the PMS replied that as he had said, he was not in the position to confirm any reshuffle questions.

Asked if the new Prime Minister would continue to appear before the Liaison Committee and hold monthly press conferences as the previous Prime Minister had done, the PMS replied that he expected the Prime Minister to do the Liaison Committee and certainly to hold regular press conferences.

Asked to comment on speculation that the Prime Minister was planning to reorganise Whitehall and merge departments, the PMS replied that this again was a reshuffle question. Full details would become clear around tomorrow lunchtime.

Asked if the move to cancel the Orders of Council was significant in terms of openness and transparency and lack of spin, the PMS replied that he was not going to let the journalist put words in his mouth, but this was the first thing that the Prime Minister did in coming into Government. Put to him that the Orders of Council applied to just two people, one who had already gone and one who effectively went today, and did not actually apply to anyone else, the PMS replied that while this was technically correct, this was not a meaningless gesture. The PMS replied that the Prime Minister had to do this initially as he needed to announce his senior staff in Downing Street today, and had removed the option to use Orders of Council.

Asked to if the Prime Minister discussed Iraq during his conversation this afternoon with President Bush, the PMS replied that he was not going to go into the detail of the conversation. It was a brief introductory call, but obviously they had recently had a lengthy meeting in Washington.

Put that surely we had to clear up the situation where a story was circulating around the world that the Foreign Secretary was no longer the Foreign Secretary, the PMS replied that this was a common aspect of reshuffles and it was not the first time that we had been in this position. Margaret Beckett was the Foreign Secretary until somebody else was appointed.

Asked if anybody should read anything in to the importance of the order of the Prime Minister’s conversations with foreign leaders, and did the conversation with President Sarkozy mean that we were building a new relationship with France, the PMS replied that Lobby should not read too much into the order of the conversations

Asked for details of the Prime Minister’s salary, the PMS replied that he would get back to Lobby on that one.

Asked if the Prime Minister had begun the reshuffle process, the PMS replied that clearly the Prime Minister had had discussions with Cabinet colleagues in recent days, and he would have further discussions during the course of this evening and tomorrow morning.

Asked if the PMS’s reference to "Government of talent" becoming clear on Friday implied that these people would be at junior Minister level and not part of the Cabinet, the PMS replied that when the non-Cabinet posts were announced on Friday, the phase "Government of all talents" would become clear.

Asked whether the Cabinet Office would be used more instead of Downing Street with a bigger Prime Minister’s Department, the PMS replied that we had never said that there would be a bigger Prime Minister’s Department. With the appointment of Jeremy Haywood working to Sir Gus O’Donnell, the intention was to strengthen the function of the Cabinet Office in coordinating Cabinet Committee business.

Asked how he would announce the new Cabinet tomorrow, the PMS replied that the working assumption was that since the announcement was very unlikely to be before 11am, the announcement would be made to Lobby in the House.

Asked that given the Prime Minister’s strong words on the doorstep about the need for change, what did he think about Tony Blair becoming the Middle East Envoy for the Quartet, the PMS replied that as members of the EU we were members of the Quartet.

Asked whether the Prime Minister and Mrs Brown would be living above No10 or No11, the PMS replied that they had not yet decided, but clearly they would want to have a discussion with whoever was the new Chancellor.

Asked if the Prime Minister would be keeping the Downing Street petition website, especially as the road pricing petition caused so much grief, the PMS replied that we would be keeping the petition site.

Asked if there had been any conversations between the Prime Minister and the Tony Blair since his appointment, the PMS replied that they had a short meeting this morning before PMQs.

Asked if there were plans for the Prime Minister to speak with the heads of the devolved administrations, the PMS replied that they would certainly be on the Prime Minister’s list of people to call over the next 24 hours or so.

Asked for more detail on the Prime Minister’s conversation with President Sarkozy, the PMS replied that again it was a brief introductory call, not particularly substantial in nature. The Prime Minister knew President Sarkozy well from when they were both finance Ministers. The Prime Minister had also met Chancellor Merkel on a number of occasions. The calls were introductory and congratulatory in tone, not particularly lengthy or business like. Asked if the Prime Minister used any French during the conversation, the PMS replied that he would not have thought so.

Asked if conversations with Ministers and would be Ministers would be done face to face or over the phone, the PMS replied that it would be a mixture of the two.

Asked if the Prime Minister was still planning to use Chequers regularly, the PMS replied that this was a decision that the Prime Minister and Mrs Brown would need to take. His expectation was that they would use Chequers on an occasional basis for private purposes and for working Government occasions.

Asked what he meant earlier by "Cabinet discussion" as this sounded quite novel, the PMS replied that clearly there would be a number of significant policy announcements over the coming weeks and these would need to be discussed at Cabinet in advance of that.

Asked if the Prime Minister would be having votes in Cabinet, the PMS replied that Cabinet would operate on a consensus basis, as was the usual convention.

Asked if there would be any public events taking place over the next few days, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister would clearly be making visits over the next few days, but he was not in the position to say what those would be yet.

Asked if tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting would be a fairly lengthy occasion, the PMS replied that for guidance he would not expect it to be a particularly lengthy Cabinet tomorrow as Ministers would only just have been appointed and would not be in a position to have read or digested any papers, although this did not mean that there would be lengthy Cabinet meetings in the future.

Asked that given John Major left Tony Blair a bottle of champagne when he left Downing Street, did Tony Blair leave anything for the new Prime Minister, the PMS referred Lobby back to his predecessor’s words this morning.

Put that it was obviously an extremely emotional moment for the Prime Minister this afternoon, and asked how he was feeling, the PMS replied that the Prime Minster was upbeat and eager to get on with things.

Asked if he would be using the same office as the previous Prime Minister, the PMS replied that the he was.

Asked if the former Prime Minister had use of Chequers this weekend, the PMS replied that he was not a spokesman for the former Prime Minister, but his understanding was that this was the case.

Asked if there was a date for a by-election in Sedgefield, the PMS replied that he did not have any information on this.

Asked if the Prime Minister would be appointing a deputy Prime Minister, the PMS replied that this fell into reshuffle territory.

Briefing took place at 15:00 | Search for related news

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