Exposed: Blair's fatal dithering over foot and mouth vaccination

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair committed himself on three separate occasions this spring to vaccinating animals against foot and mouth but caved in under pressure from farmers' leaders.

He made his determination clear at three secret meetings over the course of two weeks, two in Downing Street, and one at Chequers, after he received a report that warned starkly that the mass slaughter policy would fail. The report gave him an astonishingly accurate forecast of how the policy would allow the virus to persist in sheep, infecting new areas.

At the meetings, which took place at the end of March and in early April, the Prime Minister secured unanimous agreement to vaccinate from a wide range of principal actors, including Jim Scudamore, the Chief Vet, and the food industry, who had both opposed it.

An immunisation plan was drawn up, only to be abandoned at the last minute in the face of opposition from the National Farmers' Union.

These revelations – which may go some way to explaining Mr Blair's determination not to allow a public inquiry into the Government's handling of the epidemic – pose awkward questions over the decisiveness and consistency of his leadership, and his susceptibility to pressure from special interests.

They will increase pressure on ministers who are again considering announcing a limited vaccination programme, if the epidemic should take a turn for the worse. Some 1.9 million doses of vaccine have been prepared and are standing in readiness for the U-turn.

The Prime Minister's support for vaccination had hit a snag when food companies and supermarkets suggested that their customers would not eat vaccinated meat.

But at the last of the three meetings, at Chequers on 12 April, including representatives of the food industry he secured unanimous agreement – only to back off in the following days under pressure from the NFU.