15 October 1999
Beef men declare war on French

By FW reporters

MILITANT farmers have warned of a “winter of discontent” as they prepare to extend their campaign of direct action against the French ban on British beef.

An estimated 500 farmers pledged to broaden their targets after picketing French lorries arriving at Millbay docks, Plymouth, last Monday evening.

Demonstrators waved union flags and lit fires before breaking through police barriers to stop an empty French lorry leaving the docks.

A further eight lorries had decided not to make the Channel crossing, claimed the protestors, who vowed to step up their action.

Protest leader Richard Haddock, who is also chairman of Devon NFU, said the prospect of a `winter of discontent was now likely unless the ban was lifted. “Monday nights protest at Plymouth docks was just a warning shot across the bows,” he said.

Although France has agreed to allow British beef to be transported through the country, there is little sign that the ban on sales will be lifted soon.

Pinpoint lightning action would be taken without hesitation at other ports along the south coast and East Anglia until the French backed down, said Mr Haddock.

 
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All British companies selling French products could also be targeted, including fast-food restaurants, shops, and even machinery dealers selling French tractors.

The action could spread as far as Scotland, after a Scottish Tory MEP urged producers to adopt similar strong-arm tactics as their French counterparts.

Struan Stevenson in Brussels said: “This is the kind of action which is commonplace in France and the leaders of these protests become public heroes. It is time we took a leaf out of the French textbook.”

But the Farmers Ferry company which exports live sheep to France warned that port blockades might spark retaliatory action from French farmers.

Mike Gooding, spokesman for Farmers Ferry, said: “If you look at history, one would conclude that retaliation would be almost inevitable.” French farmers and hauliers could easily retaliate because they had blockaded British exports before.

British government ministers have urged all farmers to be cautious in their actions against the French ban or run the risk of further repercussions.

Junior farm minister Joyce Quin said: “Despite the frustrations, we want to be able to export a huge variety of foods to the EU. We must think of the wider picture.”