Beef Crisis: Anger spreads as protesters rally to the Welsh cause

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The Independent Online
As the Government came under increasing pressure yesterday to resolve the Welsh farmers' dispute, the campaign spread to English ports. Tony Heath found the ban on sales of beef on the bone fuelling the anger.

Farmers in the south-east were last night expected to converge on Dover as their anger at the ban on sales of beef on bone escalated.

In Wales, nearly 200 vehicles, ranging from muckspreaders and tractors to cattle trucks and 4x4s, paraded through Abergavenny bringing the Monmouthshire market town to a standstill.

Haulage companies whose business is also affected sent vehicles to join the protest which was carefully orchestrated and policed.

Farmers from Herefordshire joined their Welsh counterparts. Hastily produced posters carried messages ranging from "I thought we won the war," to "Let's fillet the EU and turn our rump on them."

Messages of support were on display at a firm of solicitors alongside a legal poster urging people to make their will - something that may have prompted one vehicle's poster complaining: "We are a dying breed."

Leaflets handed out to shoppers asked: "Would you be happy if your incomes were reduced to between 50 and 75 per cent?"

Philip Bromwell, who with his wife Gillian travelled 20 miles from their farm at Grosmont, a village astride Offa's Dyke, said: "My cows now fetch 50 per cent less than they did a year ago. We are protesting because we have been driven to extreme action because the Government are killing our industry."

Trevor Beavan has reduced his herd of cattle from 150 to 70. That was a measure of the problems on his 1,100 acre holding at Llandetherien, a couple of miles outside the town. "There was no way I could have survived otherwise," he said.

The overnight demonstrations at Welsh ports, which preceded the Abergavenny cavalcade, involved more than 2,000 protesters at Holyhead, 700 at Fishguard and 400 at Pembroke Dock. A reported nine vehicles were forced to return to Ireland - including one carrying dairy products.

There were signs that the bonds between the Celtic nations were beginning to fray as Irish truckers expressed concern at the threat to their own livelihood.

Jimmy Quinn of the Irish Road Haulage Association called on consumers in the Republic to boycott British produce. He expressed disappointment at an alleged failure of policing and declared: "The survival of a major Irish industry is at stake."

North Wales Police, which covers Holyhead, said they were trying to ensure safe passage for everyone. The Dyfed-Powys force, which polices Fishguard and Pembroke Dock, said it was a question of solving problems and trying to balance the rights of everyone involved.

"We have been very successful in facilitating dialogue," a spokesman said.

Leaders of the National Farmers' Union and the Farmers' Union of Wales appealed for restraint. Sir David Naish, NFU president, said in a message to Welsh farmers: "Peaceful presentation of our case to the public is helpful, but do keep within the law."

After meeting the Secretary of State for Wales, Ron Davies, the FUW president Bob Parry said he would attempt to dissuade his members from further demonstrations.

The ability of the unions' leadership to control events remains unclear. Permanent pickets are being set up at the ports. Earlier this week, one irate Irish driver held up at Fishguard told protesting farmers: "Why don't you go and picket Downing Street."

It may yet come to that.