Gummer bubbles up with indignation at the French: Ministerial anger surfaced twice on a day of strained diplomatic

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The Independent Online
JOHN GUMMER'S mood escalated yesterday from angry to furious as he issued first words then gestures of defiance against the French.

The Minister of Agriculture threatened to subject French fishermen to armed boarding parties of the Royal Navy - until the defence minister Archie Hamilton patiently explained that the French are our allies and that shooting them is not a good idea.

David Curry, the fisheries minister, had earlier told the French: 'Knock it off, because it won't work. We are not going to be intimidated.'

In an interview with Le Monde he said: 'The French government has never made a serious effort to monitor fishing. There is a long laissez-faire tradition because it is believed to be too difficult and because fishermen always avoid controls. I constantly receive complaints about this. English boats have been unloading fish in France but, for 12 or 13 years, their crews have never met a single inspector, they have never undergone any check.

'At French markets, you find fish of unauthorised size sold openly. And when the fishermen start to be violent, what happens? The government gives them subsidies.'

After a meeting with Mr Hamilton, Mr Curry said: 'We concluded that as this is an exceptional incident we are not intending to alter our procedures, which precludes any use of guns.'

Later in the day Mr Gummer was able to vent righteous anger against the French without restraint when he found a bottle of Perrier had been placed in his presence at a London conference on health. He waved the bottle and declared: 'Perrier fizzy water is not as good as those produced in the United Kingdom. I have to kick that out as minister of food.'

He pushed the offending bottle out of his view on the speaker's platform and said the public had to be properly informed about food and drink.

He said later at the Forte Crest Hotel: 'I was merely saying, 'Why is it in this particular hotel we are served imported water when there are very good bottled waters in this country?' '

A hotel spokesman said British mineral water was also available there.

(Photograph omitted)