20 January 2000
Downing Street quiet on aid rumours

By Donald MacPhail

DOWNING Street has refused to comment on speculation that Tony Blair is set to announce a major aid package for British farmers.

Reports suggest that the Prime Minister will personally unveil an aid scheme for farmers at the NFU annual general meeting next month.

The move would coincide with a campaign by British farmers for 577m in compensation to offset the effects of the strong Pound and the BSE crisis.

The Prime Ministers office refused to confirm or deny the rumours, saying that details of Mr Blairs diary could not be released in advance.

Money demanded by farmers unions includes 362m in unclaimed compensation from a total of 450m available under EU rules.

The money is available when European subsidies and support prices are devalued when converted from the Euro to stronger national currencies.

However, some commentators believe the government is unlikely to pay the full amount because it would have to part-finance the compensation.

Under terms negotiated by the UK at Fontainebleau in the early 1990s, the EU would pay 137m, leaving the Treasury to contribute 225m.

The rest of the 577m claimed by farmers is 215m which would come from persuading the government to pay for the cost of anti-BSE measures.

The NFU refused to comment on claims that Mr Blair would make an aid announcement personally at the union AGM on 1-2 February.