Blair fury at being kept in dark over Rover sale

Tony Blair intervened in BMW's sale of Rover last night, venting his anger at the move and claims by the German car-maker that its decision was prompted by Britain's indecision over the euro.

The Prime Minister, facing criticism over his ministers' handling of the crisis, telephoned the chairman of BMW, Joachim Milberg, to underline his fury at being kept in the dark over the sales of Rover to Alchemy Partners, a venture capital company, and of Land-Rover to Ford for £1.85bn.

During the 15-minute call, Professor Milberg denied dealing behind the Government's back. He told Mr Blair that the deals with Ford and Alchemy came to fruition at a late stage.

In a move to cool the row, BMW said it would consider rival offers for Rover's Longbridge plant, where thousands of jobs are set to disappear.

Earlier, Mr Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, conveyed the Prime Minister's anger in a telephone call to a member of BMW's supervisory board after Professor Milberg said that the strength of sterling had played a crucial part in its decision.

"One reason [for selling Rover] was the policy of the British Government," Professor Milberg said, pointing to "the ongoing debate on the exchange rate of sterling and the question of whether Britain will join euroland".

The undertaking to look at rival offers for Rover was given to Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, during a meeting in Birmingham with the chairman of Rover, Werner Sämann. It raises hopes that the German car-maker Volkswagen could step in.

Alchemy, which intends to rename Rover the MG Car Company, confirmed that there would be heavy redundancies at Longbridge and a substantial reduction in output.

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