Government may dilute EU boycott

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The Independent Online
The Government yesterday diluted its threat to disrupt the EU summit if no settlement is reached in advance, write John Lichfield and Sarah Helm.

Officials said the Prime Minister would be ready to discuss other business so long as he was confident the beef dispute would be dealt with at some point.

The Italian government, which is chairing the summit, is expected to postpone full discussion of the worldwide export ban on British beef until heads of government meet for dinner at the end of the first day. UK officials said yesterday that they would not necessarily object to this timetable. The Prime Minister would participate in other summit discussions, if he was assured that a proper discussion of beef was on the agenda.

The comments can be seen as an attempt by the Government to pull back from outright confrontation. Without making some kind of histrionic exhibition, Mr Major cannot stop other EU leaders discussing whatever they want, but he could refuse to take part in other discussions or, when his turn came, repeat ad nauseam his arguments about beef. This option seem to have been discarded.

Meanwhile, the European Commission was last night locked in intense debate in Strasbourg about the shape of the framework proposal itself. Although the Commission is likely to support the British idea of lifting the ban in steps, important elements of the British draft framework were last night rejected by the Commission, while a series of tough new conditions were being proposed.

In a separate attempt to secure a reversal of the beef ban, Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney General, will today launch the first stage of a legal appeal at the European Court of Justice.