Wednesday 3 March 2010

Morning press briefing from 3 March 2010

Briefing by the Prime Minister’s spokesman on: President Zuma and Falklands

President Zuma

Asked if the timing of President Zuma’s official welcoming was something that the Prime Minister was consulted on and if it was right that the welcoming couldn’t be moved to this afternoon because the Prime Minister had another event, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said that he wouldn’t say that the event he had this afternoon would stand in the way of a change of time.  These things were done both in consultation with the Palace and also in consultation with opposition parties.  These events were planned a long time in advance and once the timing was in place, the timing was in place.  The Prime Minister was very keen to do what was expected in a situation like this The Leader of the House had taken PMQs on a number of times previously, so there was nothing to read into it, other than the fact this was an important state visit.

Asked why the Prime Minister was attending President Zuma’s welcoming ceremony when he was Head of Government not Head of State, the PMS said that this was an official ceremony and it was always the case that the Head of Government would be at the receiving ceremony for a visiting Head of State; it was part of a longstanding protocol.

Put that the fact the Prime Minister was missing PMQs could be seen as contempt for Parliament, the PMS rejected any suggestion that the Prime Minister did anything but hold the Houses of Parliament in the highest regard.  These events were detailed on a minute-by-minute basis and once they were set it was difficult to change the timing.  The opposition parties had been consulted, as they always were, and they understood that these things happened; it was not the first time a change like this had taken place.  There was a recent occasion when we returned from an international visit and it made sense for the Leader of the House to step in for the Prime Minister at PMQs due to timing. 

Put that the Opposition had accused the Prime Minister of ducking it, the PMS said that he had not seen that comment and that he would be very surprised if they had made any official comment as they had been consulted.  There was a very clear protocol around this; we would not go into the exact timing of when and how it happened but we could assure people that the opposition parties were consulted on exactly the same basis that they would have been on previous occasions.

Asked if No 10 had asked for the date to be changed in advance, the PMS said these events were meticulously planned a long time in advance and it was entirely appropriate that the Prime Minister should be at the ceremony.

Asked if No 10 had been involved in the planning, the PMS said that state visits were planned by Buckingham Palace; No 10 knew about the diary dates but we did not get involved in the ceremony, which was the responsibility of the Comptroller of the House in consultation with the Lord Chamberlain. 

Asked if the Prime Minister had spent a large part of the morning looking at documents ahead of the Iraq inquiry, the PMS said that we did not comment on everything the Prime Minister did day to day. Clearly he would be preparing, as he did for every event, but he had plenty of other business underway.

Asked what the Prime Minister thought of President Zuma’s comments during an interview that he saw the British as “condescending imperialists”, the PMS said that he had not seen that comment and that we were very much looking forward to welcoming the Head of State from South Africa.  A large contingent of business people were travelling with President Zuma; we had important cultural, business and other links with South Africa and a number of British companies were major investors in South Africa and vice versa.  It was a very welcome State visit by a very important member of the international community.

Asked for the Prime Minister’s view on polygamy, the PMS said that the Prime Minister would not offer a few on anyone’s personal life in that respect. 


Asked if the Prime Minister was in contact with the US administration regarding the Secretary of State’s comments on the Falklands, the PMS said that the Prime Minister was being kept informed of developments in the Falklands.  Our position on sovereignty was clear, and based on the principles of self-determination there was no need for mediation.  Diplomatic channels remained open with Argentina.

Asked if the Prime Minister was making that point with the Americans, the PMS said that the key principle continued to be self-determination for the islanders.

Put that what Secretary Clinton said was unhelpful, the PMS said that the US were great friends of the UK and we were focussed on the diplomatic channels and the islanders right for self-determination.

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