Blair goes native in address to Assembly

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TONY BLAIR will become the first British Prime Minister to address the French National Assembly today and will, as expected, speak in French. Mr Blair is said to have been working on the speech for some time. He is writing it in English but it will be translated before he addresses the lower house of the French parliament this afternoon.

The theme has not been divulged but he is expected to speak about his reform plans for Britain and about Britain's relationship with Europe. It is possible he will make some riposte to the remarks made by the French finance minister, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, on British television at the weekend, in which he said Britain could not be a leading player in the European Union while remaining outside the single currency. This comment has been interpreted in the British press as a snub; in France, it is seen as a statement of the obvious.

The French public has been pleased by the Prime Minister's command of their language in the brief television interviews he has given since he came to office last year. Mr Blair worked in France as a student and has spent several recent family holidays in the south west of the country.

He will be only the fifth foreign head of state or government ever to address the National Assembly. His predecessors are the King Juan Carlos of Spain, President Clinton, King Hassan II of Morocco and the Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi. All but President Clinton spoke in French.