Britain accused of blackmail on BSE

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Britain is accused of negligence and blackmail during last year's beef crisis in a draft report from the European Parliament. It says ministers and officials failed to enure controls were in place and obstructed EU officials who tried to check.

The report says that Britain attempted to pack key Brussels scientific committees monitoring BSE with British officials whose "capacity to be impartial" is called into question. Britain "failed to comply with the principle of cooperation that must exist between all member states" at several stages since controls were first called for in 1988.

The government policy of blocking all EU decisions during the so-called beef war amounted to "an abuse of rights and a blackmailing of the Community institutions by the UK", says the report.

Douglas Hogg, the Agriculture Minister, is personally accused of negligence and attacked for refusing to cooperate with the committee's inquiry.

Drafts of the report were selectively circulated yesterday by European Parliament officials, ahead of publication of the complete document next week.

Mr Hogg shrugged off the criticism of his handling of the crisis. "You cannot blame Douglas Hogg for BSE. If mistakes were made, they were made earlier," said a source close to him.

Gavin Strang, shadow agriculture minister, said Mr Hogg had been responsible for the latest in a series of "disastrous blunders" by successive ministers.

The report infuriated Euro-sceptic MPs. John Carlisle, a Tory, called for Britain to threaten to withdraw from the EU. "Our sovereignty is slipping away," he said. "The only step we can take now is the ultimate threat to pull out."

Thirty-eight per cent of Britons would vote to leave the EU, while 42 per cent would choose to stay, according to a poll for the Daily Telegraph.