British crisis meeting as panic grips markets

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British Foreign Secretary William Hague called a crisis meeting on Friday amid growing fears of a new global recession, but officials said Prime Minister David Cameron would not return from holiday.

Hague is the most senior cabinet minister in Britain in the absence of Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and finance minister George Osborne who are all on holiday during the parliamentary recess.

Cameron's Downing Street office insisted he would not cut short his family holiday in Italy as markets across Europe, including London's FTSE, tumbled amid the eurozone debt crisis and fears over the health of the US economy.

Hague said he had called the crisis meeting after speaking to Cameron on the phone earlier and insisted the government was "fully functioning".

"The government is always operating 24 hours a day, we're not in the 18th century, of course everyone is constantly in touch by telephone or whatever means necessary," he said.

"I've been discussing it with the prime minister this morning and indeed am on my way to central London to chair a meeting about this now.

"So the government is fully functioning in response to this crisis and indeed to anything else that is happening in the country or in the world."

The meeting will involve senior officials from the finance ministry, Downing Street and the Foreign Office.

He also insisted that London was taking the "necessary action" to combat the crisis unfolding among its European neighbours, whose economic problems could have a huge impact on Britain.

"At a time of financial uncertainty in financial markets, of course people will always be concerned but what I think they should know is that in the United Kingdom, we have taken the necessary action," he said.

Hague also stressed that Britain was "not in the firing line" of the current problems gripping financial markets. Britain is a member of the 27-nation European Union but not of the 17-nation bloc that uses the euro currency.

© 2011 AFP

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