Lessons from the process of government formation after the 2010 general election - Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Rt Hon George Osborne MP, the Chancellor of the Exchequer

  I am grateful for your letter of 1 December, which I received here in the Treasury on 7 December, regarding the Committee's inquiry into the constitutional and practical issues relating to government formation and transition following this year's General Election.

  I have sought to answer the questions you raise below, though you will of course appreciate that, by longstanding convention, I have not had nor sort access to official papers relating to previous administrations. I have therefore not seen any official records of the specific events you refer to.

  With regard to your questions:

1.   What process of consultation took place between the political parties on this matter?

  The then Chancellor—the Rt Hon Alistair Darling MP—called me on Sunday 9 May ahead of the meeting of European Finance Ministers. The purpose of the call was to brief me on latest market developments and the proposals the UK expected to be brought forward at the Finance Ministers' meeting. Mr Darling had also sanctioned the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury to brief me directly earlier that morning. This duly happened.

2.   Precisely what objection did you raise?

  While I made clear my appreciation that Mr Darling remained the Chancellor and was therefore privy to the details and specifics of what were ongoing and fast-moving negotiations, I noted that we were, at that point, in a period of election purdah. In light of that, I cautioned against committing the UK to proposals that have a lasting effect on the UK's public finances.

3.   Did you come to any agreement with your predecessor as to the strategy to be employed for the meeting of European Finance Ministers on 9 May?

  The purpose of the phone call was not to reach agreement, but for Mr Darling to consult me on the course of action he proposed. Given he was still Chancellor of the Exchequer at that point, representing the UK in a dynamic negotiating environment, it was for him to reach decisions. He did this, aware of my views.

16 December 2010

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