Blair: Beef war may end in a matter of days

TONY BLAIR raised hopes last night that the two-month-long Anglo- French beef war could be over in days, after a meeting with his French counterpart, Lionel Jospin.

The French Trade minister warned, however, that negotiations might drag on beyond the Thursday deadline set last week by Brussels. She said that agreement had been reached on two points but not yet on others.

The Prime Minister was speaking during a visit to the Socialist International conference in Paris. Although Mr Blair and Mr Jospin did not formally discuss the beef dispute, which has soured relations between London and Paris, the issue is believed to have been raised in a one-to-one meeting.

Asked afterwards by a French television interviewer whether he expected a settlement within months or days, Mr Blair said: "I hope it will only be a matter of days." The European Commission gave France until midnight on Thursday to agree arrangements with Britain to lift its illegal ban on British beef. If France fails to remove the embargo by next Monday at the latest, it faces a lengthy legal action in the European Court of Justice.

Mr Blair made clear yesterday that he would prefer an amicable settlement with Paris, which would persuade French consumers British beef is the "safest in the world".

"If I did not think that our meat was safe, I would not allow it to be fed to my own people," he said. In an interview with France 3 television, broadcast last night, Mr Blair said that Britain had agreed to hold the negotiations "in good faith", despite the fact that the French doubts about British beef had been rejected by a panel of EU scientists.

The ban must be lifted, he said, but it was also in Britain's interests to calm the anxieties of French consumers about the presence of BSE in British beef herds.

Mary-Lise Lebranchu, the French Trade minister, earlier struck a more cautious note. "We don't want to be imprisoned by a date," she said. A first round of talks last Friday between Britain, France and the European Commission had reached agreement on arrangements for new controls and tests on animals, she said. Talks were still continuing on the traceability of British exports to their farm of origin, the labelling of British beef and arrangements for products derived from beef.

Under French law, she said, whatever agreement was reached would have to be considered by the committee of French BSE experts that recommended the continued rejection of British beef in the first place.

British beef consumption last year was up 20 per cent on 1996 when the mad-cow crisis was at its height, according to a government survey published yesterday. The National Food Survey showed 1998 beef sales were virtually in line with 1997 when the industry recovered from falls provoked by fears of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

n The Government is opposing moves to introduce the first EU-wide tax, to try to shield profits in the City of London.

The proposed tax would be levied on the interest generated by savings. It would force member states either to tax interest paid to non-resident EU citizens, or to inform tax authorities in their native country about their earnings.

The German Finance Minister, Hans Eichel, accused Britain of provoking "a dramatic situation". Failure to agree the package, the EU's first move into direct taxation, "would have the most grave consequences for the credibility of European politics", Mr Eichel added.

Finland, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, held out the prospect that Mr Blair may be ambushed over the issue at next month's Helsinki summit. The row looks likely to continue today when the European commissioner responsible for tax policy, Frits Bolkestein, visits London for a series of meetings in Whitehall and the City.

The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, did not attend yesterday's meeting, but the Paymaster General, Dawn Primarolo, gave no hint of compromise, arguing that "nothing we have heard from member states has changed our view".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own