Thursday, November 11, 1999 Published at 05:21 GMT
Europe moves against French beef ban
The French say British beef could still pose a health hazard
France will face legal action from Europe if it refuses to start lifting its ban on British beef by next Tuesday.
Intense high-level contacts are taking place between Britain, France and the European Commission before the deadline to try and avert a legal showdown.
The last-minute talks are likely to concentrate on the date-based export scheme, agreed to ensure the safety of British beef, said the EU. But Tony Blair insisted Britain would not re-open the scheme, which has been approved by EU scientists.
He said it was far better to avoid legal action if possible, but it would be pursued if it became the only option.
But Mr Prodi's spokesman Ricardo Levy said: "It is clear that, should this not end up with success, then the commissioner will stand up to his responsibilities."
Recourse to the law
The date-based export scheme was designed to ensure that only cattle free of the disease are exported from the UK.
Agriculture Minister Nick Brown had warned France not to seek new conditions on British beef.
He said Britain would insist the commission took legal action unless the French backed down and complied with the unanimous ruling from EU scientists.
"If the French are saying they are unable to lift the ban following the exhaustive clarification of the technical workings of the scheme they have had from us we will have no choice but make recourse to law," he said.
"I would have preferred to get this resolved by discussion and by sensible analysis of the situation but if we can't do it, if we have to fight our way through the courts, then so be it."
Mr Blair rejected calls for retaliation in the House of Commons on Wednesday, saying a trade war cost thousands of British jobs.
Conservative leader William Hague called for Mr Brown to be replaced and, in a reference to a speech Mr Blair made in Paris earlier this week, provoked laughter when he said: "On Monday, you gave the French the Third Way and on Wednesday they gave you the two fingers."