British MEPs walk out over beef

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British Euro MPs walked out of a speech by French President Jacques Chirac today to signal their anger at the continuing beef ban.

British Euro MPs walked out of a speech by French President Jacques Chirac today to signal their anger at the continuing beef ban.

The silent protest came as he formally opened the new £250 million European Parliament building in Strasbourg.

Just as the president thanked MEPs for a "very warm and friendly welcome", British Labour, Tory and Liberal members of the house got up from their seats and quietly left the chamber.

President Chirac, who had been warned in advance about the protest, looked unconcerned and continued his speech without interruption.

But the French President of the European Parliament, Nicole Fontaine, sat stony-faced, clearly furious at the spectacle of a snub by more than 80 members during the presidential visit.

Afterwards Conservative Euro-leader Edward McMillan-Scott explained: "We left the chamber in protest at the continuation of the French ban on British beef, contrary to law and scientific opinion. Our protest is directed at the French government, not the French President or the French people."

President Chirac, just back from the Helsinki summit where he received a frosty reception from Prime Minister Tony Blair, made no reference to the continuing Anglo-French beef row as he inaugurated the new building.

He said Strasbourg, the home of the European parliament, the European Court of Human Rights and the 41-nation Council of Europe, had established itself as "the capital of European citizenship".

And he praised Euro MPs for establishing themselves as a major force in the EU.

"It has been the year of the European Parliament, having triggered the collective resignation of the European Commission.

"It signalled the end of an era, an era in which there was too much secrecy, and too much of a technocratic approach towards the building of Europe. You showed your determination to use your powers to the full," said President Chirac.

The Euro Tories left one of their number behind in the chamber to listen to President Chirac. James Provan, a vice-president of the European Parliament, was this afternoon discussing the beef ban with President Chirac and it was deemed diplomatic for him, at least, to stand apart from today's protest.

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