Fuel protests postponed after rethink on tax rise

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A wave of fuel protests which threatened to bring British cities to a standstill have been postponed after Chancellor Gordon Brown promised to rethink plans to increase duty.

A wave of fuel protests which threatened to bring British cities to a standstill have been postponed after Chancellor Gordon Brown promised to rethink plans to increase duty.

Campaigners said yesterday that protests using slow-moving lorries would be cancelled after the Government promised to consider scrapping the planned 2p a litre tax rise. But they issued a veiled threat that if the duty was not scrapped in August the protests would continue in September.

David Handley, chairman of Farmers for Action, who helped organise the protests in 2000 which brought several cities to a halt, warned he would give the Chancellor less than a month to review the increase. "We met following Gordon Brown's announcement that he is reconsidering increasing duty in September. With the move from Opec we certainly will not be taking further action for the next two to three weeks," he said. "Gordon Brown has clearly indicated he is going to look and go back and reinvestigate the increase. We feel we should give him two to three weeks - you can still protest in September." The only protest that will go ahead is in Cardiff this weekend because it is too late to cancel it, campaign leaders said. But demonstrations planned for Newcastle, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and London on Wednesday, the day before the local, London and European elections, have been cancelled.

Andrew Spence, senior spokesman for the Fuel Lobby, said protesters would hold meetings with government officials in the coming weeks about the rising price of petrol.

"With Gordon Brown's remarks yesterday, we feel it is a positive sign in the right direction. We are being sensitive at the moment, especially when the Government is making positive dialogue, so we are prepared to give Mr Brown the benefit of the doubt and see what his proposals are," said Mr Spence, who stood as a UKIP candidate against Tony Blair at the last general election. "This is only a postponement and if we do not get the continuation of positive dialogue, there will be no more warnings given." Yesterday the Prime Minister reiterated the Government's decision to rethink the rise in fuel duty and said he understood "there is a problem for businesses and motorists".

"I think it's sensible to keep it under review, because what's happened with oil prices and world demand and the worries over terrorism has meant the oil price has gone up," he told BBC Breakfast. But Mr Blair did not say how high prices would have to be before the tax rise was abandoned. "I don't think we can pick an arbitrary figure. It's a question of looking at it in the round," he said.

Cardiff
action

Police expect about 300 lorries to converge on Cardiff today as demonstrators go ahead with their fuel protest.

Most lorries are likely to be travelling from the Cross Hands area of west Wales along the M4, a South Wales Police spokesman said. They will join protesters travelling from other areas of south Wales near the Cardiff West services at around lunchtime, before driving into the city centre.

David Davies, a Conservative Member of the Welsh Assembly, said the protesters were "proud, hard-working people". Martin Palmer, spokesman for the Low Tax on Fuel group, which is organising the protest, said government promises to review the fuel tax were "a step in the right direction" but not enough.

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