24 May 1996

Backlash to UKaction

THREATS from the Prime Minister that the UK will block all EU decisions until the beef ban is lifted were immediately condemned by the European Commission.

A statement warned that a solution to the beef crisis could be achieved only through the proper functioning of the EU. Some commission officials accused Mr Major of acting for domestic electoral reasons.

The governments announcement, however, received cautious support at home. The NFU welcomed the governments determination to see progress on getting the beef ban lifted. Sir David Naish, NFU president, said he shared the governments deep sense of frustration that there was no progress on lifting the beef ban which was not only causing damage to the beef industry in the UK but also in Europe.

But he urged Mr Major to continue his attempts to resolve the crisis through negotiations before introducing retaliatory tactics.

But Scottish NFU leader, Sandy Mole, said he was unsure that the prime minsters action would further the cause of British farmers. He feared that retaliatory measures would polarise positions and concentrate opposition against the UK.

Brian Pack, head of Scotlands biggest mart and meat group has branded the Prime Ministers announcement as "crazy". "We are about to start slaughtering new season lamb for export to the Continent and Mr Majors action could disrupt that trade."

Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Lib-Dem, suggested that most people would conclude that the Euro-sceptic minority on the Tory backbenches had taken control of the governments foreign policy. The Prime Ministers action had much more to do with appeasing them than restoring confidence in beef.

After attacking the governments handling of the BSE crisis, Opposition leader, Tony Blair, suggested a massive information and propaganda exercise in other member states could help to restore consumer confidence in British beef. The UK should tell other countries exactly what was being done, why that action had dealt with the problem and why British beef was safe.