It's dark, wrapped in foil, and now, at last, it's legal

France and Belgium have been forced to lift a 27-year-old ban on the sale of British chocolate in a landmark vote by the European Parliament.

To the disgust of French and Belgian chocolate makers who regard the British variety as inferior, it will no longer be illegal to sell a Flake or a bar of Cadbury's dairy milk anywhere in the European Union.

For more than a quarter of a century, France and Belgium have refused to recognise theBritish varietyas chocolate, because of its high vegetable fat and milk content. They have succeeded in banishing it from the shelves of eight out of 15 EU member states.

Yesterday, the British government celebrated Europe's chocolate union. "Today is a great day for the single market, the UK, the European Union and for chocoholics everywhere," said Keith Vaz, the minister for Europe.

Once the new decision is rubber stamped by EU ministers, chocolate makers throughout the EU will be permitted to mix up to 5 per cent vegetable oil with the cocoa butter, provided the product carries a label saying "contains vegetable fats in addition to cocoa butter".

Chocolate has divided Britain from the rest of Europe since 1973, when the UK and Ireland joined the then European Economic Community. Teams of officials and lawyers struggled to remove rules that were already in place to ban chocolate of the British variety.

At one point in the campaign it was suggested that Britain would have to market its chocolate products as "vegelate". Even the cocoa farmers in Burkina Faso, West Africa, were drawn into the debate as Britain lobbied to overturn the restrictions. But victory came in Strasbourg yesterday when a majority of MEPs voted to dismantle the restrictions. One of the conditions was that British chocolate containing more than 20 per cent milk must be labelled "Family Milk Chocolate".

An attempt by Belgian MEPs to ensure that this warning label would be plastered all over the front of the chocolate bar wrappers was defeated. The Parliament ruled that it must be prominent and separate from the list of ingredients, but can be printed on the back.

Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies said: "No one disputes that the Belgian and French products are wonderful stuff, but there are times when nothing beats a bar of British chocolate".

Paul Lannoye, the Belgian MEP who has led the resistance against British chocolate, said: "For me this is not a compromise. It gives almost everything to those who favour the use of vegetable fats."

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