EU infuriated as Blair digs in his heels

TONY BLAIR angered Britain's European partners last night by blocking agreement on an EU-wide savings tax, as his positive approach to the Europe came under fire after France's refusal to lift its ban on British beef. European Commission officials accused Mr Blair of scuppering a compromise on the savings tax at the EU summit in Helsinki to pacify British anger at the continuing beef crisis.

"We thought we had a deal on tax but the beef row blew it out of the water," said a Brussels source. "We have bent over backwards to help Britain but this has been thrown back in our face. Is Mr Blair really any different to Margaret Thatcher?"

Last night the summit agreed a face-saving formula under which the EU will set up a working group to try to break the deadlock over the savings tax by next June. Mr Blair and the Chancellor Gordon Brown hailed the review as a sign that Britain was winning the argument that tax evasion had to be tackled on a worldwide rather than EU basis.

But the commision was furious that no deal was reached in Helsinki and accused Britain of stalling tactics. Frits Bolkestien, the EU tax commissioner, said a worldwide agreement would "like waiting for hell to freeze over".

The row over the savings tax was one of several set-backs which marred the Helsinki Summit. An expected break-through to allow Turkey to join the EU failed to materialise when the Turkish Government reacted coolly to the terms on offer. In a last minute attempt to salvage Turkey's application, Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, left last night for talks in Ankora.

Despite the mounting humanitarian catastrophe in Chechnya, EU leaders failed to agree anything more than a review of Europe's contacts with Russia, although France demanded tougher action against Moscow. However, the summit approved plans to set up an EU rapid reaction force of 40-60,000 to carry out crisis intervention and peacekeeping in the world's trouble spots.

Mr Blair was clearly exasperated by France's refusal to allow British beef exports to resume. But he vowed not to pander to Britain's Euro-sceptic press by abandoning his policy of "constructive engagement" with Europe. The Prime Minister dismissed Tory demands for retaliatory action against France as "absurd", warning that a trade war would merely "put thousands of British workers on the dole".

But he added: "We will be tough whenever Britain's interests need to be defended, which is why we have made it clear we are not having a withholding tax that drives the eurobond market out of London." Other EU member states were furious and warned of retaliation against Britain. Germany said Mr Blair's tactics would strengthen demands for the introduction of qualified majority voting on tax policy.

Meanwhile, Mr Blair bluntly told Lionel Jospin, the French Prime Minister, his country was "wrong" on beef, during a brief exchange in the margins of yesterday's meeting.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
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: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all