29 October 1999

North-south divide growing as union splits over beef row

By FWreporters

THE rift within the NFU over what actions farmers should take against the French beef ban appears to be deepening into a north-south divide.

Farmers belonging to the unions York branch this week restated their call for NFU members in southern England to stop protesting against the ban. The York farmers claimed their call was vindicated after a "symbolic" blockade of the Channel Tunnel by French farmers for two hours on Tuesday.

Roland Firby, a former county chairman for York NFU, said the tit-for-tat action showed that blockading ports in Britain was pointless and harmful. He said: "We are now seeing French counter-protests, which means we will lose out. All the demonstrators are doing is playing into the hands of the Irish, who will snap up our [export] markets."

Wesley Abbey, who as York NFU council delegate holds the position once occupied by NFU president, Ben Gill, predicted more British blockades would lead to increased action by French farmers. Last week, Mr Abbey said would write to NFU headquarters in London and other NFU regions calling for an end to the British protests.

NFU leaders in London have yet to receive any letter from the York branch and appeared to have confirmed their backing for the south-west farmers. An NFU memo from the south-west region last Friday (22 Oct.) to group secretaries said: "The President fully supported the demonstrations at Plymouth and Poole and will support further legal protests by members to highlight the iniquity of Frances ban".

Protest leaders campaigning for a public boycott of French goods reacted bluntly to the condemnation of their activities. Beef producer David Hill, vice-chairman of Devon NFU, accused York NFU of sitting back and letting other farmers fight their battles for them.

"They do nothing about the French ban themselves, but do not suggest at what point they would take action," he said. "I do not believe they represent the views of the majority of NFU members."

Devon NFU chairman, Richard Haddock, said: "I think York must not have been aware that our actions over the French ban have had the full backing of Ben Gill. The fact that NFU livestock chairman, David Williams, was present throughout the Pool protest shows we had Londons approval."