» Thursday, March 27, 2008

UK-France Summit

The Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) began by giving the assembled press a rundown of the events of earlier that day; the Prime Minister met President Sarkozy in No10 and then went on to the Emirates Stadium for a press conference. The visit also included a photo-call on the pitch, which was also attended by Arsene Wenger and Sepp Blatter. After the press conference the Prime Minister and President Sarkozy had lunch, with senior Ministers from both countries who had been present at the summit. This was followed by a reception organised by the Franco-British Council with a number of leading figures from the business, cultural and academic worlds of Britain and France.

Asked if there were any interesting names attending the reception, the PMS said that those invited had included Julian Barnes, Quentin Blake, Raymond Blanc, Ronnie Wood, Simon Fuller, Jean-Pierre Garnier and Howard Davies among others.

Put that the Government had not said why the Emirates had hosted the press conference, the PMS replied that one of the main reasons was because of the security facilities at the venue were very good and ideal for organising a summit of this kind. A few months ago, when the Home Office was announcing proposals relating to how to better design in security facilities into new buildings, the Home Secretary actually made a point of visiting the Emirates as it was considered to be one of the best examples of how a new and large building in the capital had built in very effective security arrangements.

Secondly, the Emirates and Arsenal was in some way symbolic of the wider Franco-British relationship that had developed in recent years. Lots of British people now lived and worked in France and lots of French people were doing the same in London. Asked if it was true that the President was a fan of Arsenal, the PMS said that that was a question for the French Government.

Put that there had been no mention of nuclear energy as being one of the subjects discussed, the PMS said that there was a reference in the communique to the cooperation on nuclear issues. Opportunities would be explored to increase the interchange of regulatory staff for example. Put that John Hutton had mentioned in an interview that there would be an announcement on nuclear energy, the PMS said that he didn’t think No10 had suggested in advance that this would be the most significant element of the package. It was an important component, but there were lots of other things being discussed as well.

Asked why No10 were seeking to downplay it, the PMS replied that he wasn’t suggesting that it wasn’t a significant part of the communique, but there were lots of other issues in there as well.

Put that the communique had mentioned the channel tunnel in relation to combating nuclear terrorism, the PMS said that this was the sort of thing that people would expect the Government to be doing with the French Government and he didn’t think that this would come as any great surprise.

Put that President Sarkozy had mentioned that the Prime Minister would be hosting another meeting on economic transparency in October, the PMS said that President Sarkozy’s words spoke for themselves. At some point we thought it would be useful to have another such meeting, but as and when we were in a position to confirm it, we would let people know.

Asked repeatedly about the Prime Minister’s orientation problem last night, the PMS said that the Prime Minister didn’t have any orientation problems at the banquet last night. He, as always on these occasions, did what he was instructed to do. As the PMS had said that morning, the Prime Minister had been focussing on the substantive issues relating to the summit.

Asked whether there were any French proposals relating to immigration that the Government would have an issue with, the PMS replied that our position on the subject was that we had an opt-in and therefore we looked at these issues on a case-by-case basis. We had announced a series of bilateral immigration measures with the French that were set out in the communique. Asked if there would be any stepping-up of security around Calais, the PMS said that on the detail of that it would be best for people to speak to the Home Office.

Asked what a new migration pact was, the PMS advised people to wait for the EU French Presidency, but in the communique there was quite a lot on what more we could do to help stop illegal immigration in Europe. Put that the Prime Minister had mentioned meeting every six months with President Sarkozy, the PMS said that he was talking about Ministers meeting every six months, so the proposal would be officials meeting on a quarterly basis and senior Ministers meeting every six months whilst continuing with the annual summit at Head of Government level.

Asked what the combined maritime strike capability was, the PMS said that a lot of the defence proposals had already been put in place, but it would be best to check with the Ministry of Defence on the detail. It was his understanding that for example, if there was a British carrier it might be supported by a French frigate and vice-versa.

Asked which Ministers were involved in talks today and was it the whole of the Cabinet, the PMS said it wasn’t all of the Cabinet but it was certainly almost all of the senior members. Alistair Darling, David Miliband, Jack Straw, Jacqui Smith, Des Browne, Hilary Benn and John Hutton were all in attendance among others. There was a series of meetings between them and their French counterparts, before the Prime Minister and the President arrived at the Emirates.

Asked if the Government was happy with the French position on Afghanistan, the PMS said that there had been a constructive discussion on the subject, but there would be further discussions at the NATO Summit in Bucharest next week.

Asked what the Prime Minister made of what the President had said about his wife, the PMS replied that he hadn’t had an opportunity to ask the Prime Minister that particular question.

Asked if the Prime Minister shared the view that our relationship with France was like a one night stand with breakfast the day after, the PMS said that the Prime Minister certainly believed that the strengthened relationship we had developed with France was one that could continue. Asked if the Prime Minister thought that this was a turning point after the frosty relations between the former Prime Minister and President Chirac, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister would certainly see the relationship with France as one that had improved in recent years and had the potential to improve further. It was difficult to identify that many areas where we had significant differences with France at the moment; we shared a lot of common interests and values and we were working very closely together, not only in the EU but at the UN and elsewhere such as the IMF and World Bank, to deal with wider international issues.

Asked if future EU budget arrangements had been discussed, the PMS said that he was not sure there was time for any substantive discussion on the subject; the main agenda items being discussed were in the communique.

Asked whether the Common Agricultural Policy wasn’t just protectionism in disguise, the PMS replied that both countries had their views on the subject, but as President Sarkozy had said, a sign of a good and mature relationship was that we were able to discuss these issues.

original source.

Briefing took place at 16:45 | Search for related news

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