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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 July, 2005, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
Blair sidesteps French food fight
Tony Blair
Mr Blair insisted his attention was focused on G8 matters
Tony Blair has refused to be drawn into a diplomatic row after the French president reportedly made insulting remarks about British food.

Jacques Chirac joked with German and Russian leaders: "One cannot trust people whose cuisine is so bad."

As the G8 summit nears, Mr Blair said: "The G8 is going to focus on really important issues and to be quite honest I'm not going to disparage anybody."

Mr Chirac also reportedly said Britain had the worst food after Finland.

Mr Blair was asked to comment on remarks attributed to President Chirac while he was in Singapore to boost the chances of London being awarded the 2012 Olympics.

Not tempted

He was asked if relations with France would damage London's bid and the G8 summit in Scotland later this week but the prime minister declined to give a definite answer.

"Particularly at this moment I don't want to get tempted down that path," Mr Blair said.

I'd like him to come to my constituency and I'll take him to some restaurants that will match anything he can see in France
Michael Howard

"What I'm concentrating on in the next few hours and days is to do our level best to support this bid and then have a G8 focused on Africa and climate change and everything else comes a long, long way behind those things."

However, Tory leader Michael Howard said he would be happy to prove the French president wrong about British food.

"My constituency is one of the closest in England to France ... I'd like him to come to my constituency, over to Folkestone and Hythe, and I'll take him to some restaurants that will match anything he can see in France," he said.

Mr Chirac's comments were reported in French newspaper Liberation after several journalists overheard his jokes with Gerhard Schroeder and Vladimir Putin.

Vladimir Putin, Gerhard Schroeder and Jacques Chirac
The remark was reportedly made to the Russian and German leaders

"The only thing they have ever done for European agriculture is mad cow disease," Mr Chirac said, according to the newspaper's report.

"After Finland, it is the country with the worst food."

A spokesman for President Chirac said the report did not reflect "the tone or the content" of the meeting.

Summit menu

The menu at the G8 summit, to be held at Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire, Scotland, has not been revealed.

I presume this means that Chirac will be bringing a packed lunch to Gleneagles?
Peter, Nottingham

However, Scotland's chef of the year, Andrew Fairlie, will be preparing it, said hotel managing director Peter Lederer.

He hinted to the Scotsman newspaper that venison and seafood could be served - Mr Fairlie's signature dish is smoked lobster, which involves smoking lobster shells over old whisky barrels for up to 12 hours.

"I won't be doing anything extra special for the two dinners [during the summit]," he said.

"It is a matter of sticking to what you know and maintaining the standards we have already set."

Media indignation

British newspapers on Tuesday were indignant about the remarks attributed to President Chirac.

The Times regarded the president's reported comments as "an astonishing diplomatic blunder".

The Daily Telegraph said the insult had heightened Anglo-French rivalries on the eve of the G8 summit and the 2012 Olympic decision.

The paper said Mr Chirac's behaviour was "no way to conduct high politics".

The Sun suggested that what it calls the president's "sneering" remarks may turn out to be bad news for the Paris Olympic bid.

The paper's logic was that he also criticised food from Finland - the homeland of two members of the International Olympic Committee.

In the House of Commons, the Conservatives said Mr Blair should tell Mr Chirac that "Scotland's agriculture and food production is a major economic asset".

Shadow Scottish secretary Eleanor Laing said Robert Burns had been right to compare French ragout and fricasse that "wad make her spew" unfavourably with the haggis - the "great chieftain o the puddin-race".

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