Gordon Brown's press conference -- live blog

Live coverage of the PM's regular press conference

10:46am David Cameron has had his monthly outing in front of the press. Now it's Gordon Brown's turn.

Follow The Staggers from 11am for full coverage.

11:01am Brown begins with Afghanistan. He says the London conference will see new Nato and Afghan troop levels announced.

11:03am He says he's confident the economy is emerging from recession but warns that the UK and the world economy remain fragile. We must not cut the deficit this year in a way that threatens growth and jobs, he says.

11:04am Brown announces that 100,000 unemployed young people are now eligible for a guaranteed job or training programme. He says they must accept the jobs on offer or risk losing their benefits.

11:06am He says that the government's economic plans will "expand the middle class not squeeze it".

11:08am The questions begin with Sky's Adam Boulton. He asks Brown if he really believes he can trim the Budget deficit yet avoid cuts to "front-line services". Brown says that the biggest threat to the recovery is not continuing with the action the government is taking, the reverse of Cameron's position.

11:10am Nick Robinson asks if the PM can be honest about the risks of not tackling the deficit. Brown says his judgement has been proved right throughout the economic crisis. He says he is right not to withdraw fiscal stimulus now.

11:14am After Bob Ainsworth let the date slip yesterday, Brown is asked if he can confirm that the election will be on 6 May. He replies by joking that Ainsworth suggested we need to prevent the Conservatives from winning the "council elections" (also on 6 May).

11:19am Nick Watt from the Guardian asks Brown if he agrees with Alistair Darling's statement that cutting the Budget deficit will lead to the toughest spending round in 20 years. Brown insists that, unlike some other countries, his government has already made key decisions on tax rises and restructuring the economy.

11:21am Brown is asked if he is taking a big risk by giving evidence to the Iraq inquiry before the election. He replies that he isn't, "because I stand by all the actions I have taken". He adds that he welcomes the chance to explain the decisions the government took.

11:26am Brown is asked how the Afghanistan conference will persuade President Karzai to commit to specific measures to tackle corruption. He says that action is being taken through the introduction of an anti-corruption task force on which external advisers will sit.

He says the coalition's strategy is to "split the Taliban" by persuading mercenaries to leave the group.

11:30am The PM is asked how would he characterise the differences between Labour and the Conservatives on national security. He says the government has trebled the national security budget since 2001 and has taken legislative action to respond to the terrorist threat, though he concedes this has been "controversial". He adds that the defence budget was cut "savagely" under the last Tory government.

11:37am Bloomberg asks Brown for his response to Goldman Sachs's decision to the cap the pay of its partners at £1m. He says there is a big danger that the banks want to return to the "bad old ways", with rewards unrelated to risk.

11:41am Channel 4's Gary Gibbon asks if windfall money from lower benefit payouts will go towards deficit reduction. Brown says that the government is prepared to make "difficult decisions" and cut the deficit, but it will not be distracted by people "shouting" that we need to cut the deficit today.

11:44am Brown says that the Tories produce policy documents whose one characteristic is that they "contain no new policy".

11:46am Asked if he supports the campaign to save general election night, Brown says that the timing of the count is a matter for returning officers.

11:49am Brown refuses to confirm whether he supports abolishing the law allowing firms to force people to retire at 65.

11:56am Asked about the defence budget, Brown says there is "no danger" the Afghanistan campaign will be underfinanced.

11:57am Pressed on where spending cuts will fall, Brown says that due to uncertainty over economic growth it would be premature to allocate money to departments now.

12:00 noon A rare question on climate change. Brown is asked if some of the mistakes made by the IPCC undermine attempts to secure international agreement on climate change. He replies: "No, because I think the academic evidence as a whole leads to one conclusion: that we need to tackle climate change."

12:04pm A Middle Eastern journalist asks if Brown believes the Yemeni government is committed to tackling terrorism. Brown says that he believes the government can be trusted.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.