Heseltine rejects moves to blame EU for beef ban

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Indy Politics
Michael Heseltine yesterday clashed with his Euro-sceptic Cabinet colleague, Michael Forsyth, over attempts to blame the European Union for the ban on the export of British beef.

Mr Heseltine took a conciliatory approach to the efforts to persuade Britain's European partners to lift the ban on British beef exports, in sharp contrast to Mr Forsyth, the Secretary of State for Scotland, who defiantly defended his refusal to fly the European flag until the beef ban was lifted.

The Thatcherite minister was loudly cheered at the conference in Aberdeen - the heart of the Scottish beef industry - when he attacked the ban on British beef as "ridiculous" and accused the European Union of wrecking British industry to kill its competition.

"What we are witnessing is the cynical elimination of a formidable competitor from the markets of Europe," Mr Forsyth said. "I will put out the flags when the European Union lifts the ban on our farmers."

But Mr Heseltine, speaking a few hours later, rejected the attempts to blame the EU for the beef ban. The Deputy Prime Minister said British beef had been banned by many countries around the world before the EU imposed its ban.

"The lifting of the EU ban will not be enough. Ultimately, it is the consumers of this country that we need to satisfy and convince of the safety of British beef. So we are working with our European partners to devise the most effective measures to achieve this end," he said.

Mr Heseltine privately fears that the "Euro-bashing" by Euro-sceptics and the British press has put back the efforts to lift the ban in careful negotiation with Britain's European partners. With the negotiations delicately poised, pro-European ministers fear that renewed attacks on Europe from Britain could upset their efforts to get the ban lifted next week.

He is also concerned about the way the Government handles the divisions in the party over Europe, and is wary of joining Douglas Hurd, the former Foreign Secretary, in counter-attacking against the Euro-sceptics. Mr Forsyth later said there was no difference in tone.

The sharp differences in attitude to Europe were too great to avoid at the conference, in spite of a largely upbeat speech by Mr Heseltine to lift the Tory conference. He predicted that the return of the "feelgood factor" would emerge this year putting the Tories into position to win back lost support in time for the general election.

He also revealed that the Tories are pinning their hopes of political recovery on the Treasury's expectations of a sustained rise in the next 12 months in real disposable incomes through of tax cuts and lower interest rates.