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Sunday, 26 November, 2000, 19:11 GMT
French blamed for climate talks failure
John Prescott speaking at the climate change summit
Prescott said he was 'gutted' at the summit's failure
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has blamed the French for the failure of the global warming summit to agree on curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's World This Weekend programme, he attacked European colleagues for failing to back a deal on emissions which he had brokered with the United States.

There comes a time when politicians have to use their own guts, their own judgment

John Prescott
Mr Prescott singled out French environment minister Dominique Voynet for particular criticism, saying she got "cold feet" over the deal.

Other European ministers, he said, had lacked the political courage to make the deal happen.

Despite the collapse of the climate change talks, Tony Blair has backed his deputy.

The prime minister's spokesman Alastair Campbell said that Mr Blair "believes John Prescott did an extraordinary job getting so close to an agreement".

"Kyoto would not have happened without his drive and determination, and these talks only got as far as they did because of similar drive and determination," he added.

Speaking of the unsuccessful deal, Mr Prescott said: "It failed in the European area. There comes a time when politicians have to use their own guts, their own judgment."

French environment minister Dominique Voynet
Dominique Voynet accused of "cold feet"
European ministers should have taken a chance and made the change, he said.

"That's what I decided to do and everyone was with us until we got into those Euro ministers and they split."

Mr Prescott said Ms Voynet "said she was exhausted and tired and could not understand the detail and then refused to accept it".

"That is how the deal fell," he added.

But the Conservatives accused the government delegation of tactical naivety, and questioned why, hours before the talks collapsed, ministers had been conducting "self-congratulatory briefings".

'Reversible tragedy'

Shadow Environment Secretary Archie Norman said the summit's failure would be regretted all over the world.

He said: "It is now clear that there were serious tactical misunderstandings that led to the breakdown, and in view of the seriousness of the implications we now need to understand what went wrong."

Mr Norman added: "Were the self-congratulatory briefings before and during the summit wholly misplaced, or was the breakdown due to avoidable misunderstandings of the subtlety of the negotiating positions of the Europeans and USA?

"Why was the French position so comprehensively misread or did it in fact change at the last minute?

"Was there adequate pre-negotiation in the run up to Hague or was the coincidence of public service failures in Britain a distraction for the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions team?"

He added: "Parliament and the British public will want to know the answers - a full and early post mortem into the loss of this unrepeatable opportunity will be needed."

Earlier, environment Minister Michael Meacher insisted the collapse of the talks was a "reversible tragedy" and a deal was still possible.

Mr Meacher, who said he went 36 hours without sleep in a bid to bring the sides together, said he was certain a deal would be made when talks reconvened "early next year".

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See also:

26 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Dismay at climate summit failure
25 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Angry Prescott storms out
25 Nov 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Science takes a back seat
23 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Climate treaty 'almost irrelevant'
28 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
Global warming 'worse than feared'
07 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
The dangers of climate change
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