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The BBC's Political Correspondent, Carolyn Quinn
"This affair will not be dismissed with a few Gallic shrugs"
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Tuesday, 28 November, 2000, 12:57 GMT
Prescott 'macho' row refuses to die
John Prescott in the Commons
Macho man? Moi?
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is facing fresh accusations of rudeness towards women after France's environment minister accused him of chauvinism.

Dominique Voynet has repeated her claim that Mr Prescott's "macho attitude" contributed to the collapse of global warming talks in The Hague.

He does appear to be a victim of blatant chauvinism and appears to be proud to be so

Anne McIntosh MP
In an article in Tuesday's Guardian newspaper, Mme Voynet said: "Mr Prescott blames me for the failure of the Hague conference.

"He could have used reasoned arguments.

"But, for lack of any, he adopted a standard macho attitude.

"According to Prescott, a woman is necessarily incompetent and can't physically last the course in such negotiations.

"Such an argument is laughable compared with the stakes we face."

Mme Voynet objected to Mr Prescott blaming her tiredness and alleged inability to understand the complexities of a compromise deal on carbon dioxide emissions for the failure to reach a deal.

She used an appearance on French radio to call Mr Prescott's comments "pathetic".

Conservative MP Anne McIntosh has also joined the row, accusing the deputy prime minister of being "gratuitously rude" towards women.

Recently Mrs McIntosh clashed with Mr Prescott when he called her a "twit" during a Commons debate.

'Blatant chauvinism'

The Vale of York MP told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that she thought Mr Prescott was "too proud" to apologise for his remark.

"I think the French minister's comments have struck a chord.

"Regrettably, the deputy prime minister appears to be gratuitously rude, especially to women, on this side of the Channel as well as the other.

"He does appear to be a victim of blatant chauvinism and appears to be proud to be so."

Mrs McIntosh said a number of Labour MPs wrote to Mr Prescott following his remarks in the House asking him to apologise.

We will both work together to ensure the agreement is reached

John Prescott on Dominique Voynet
On the same programme, Simon Murphy, the leader of Labour's MEPs in Brussels, leapt to the defence of Mr Prescott's "robust negotiating style".

Downing Street has also backed Mr Prescott, with officials praising his record on environmental negotiations.

In a Commons statement on Monday Mr Prescott had attempted to calm the war of words with Mme Voynet.

He described the breakdown of the summit as a "real disappointment" but said a deal was still possible.

He told MPs: "I have worked and negotiated with Dominique Voynet for three years now.

"Her commitment to securing agreement is as passionate as mine. We will both work together to ensure the agreement is reached."

French environment minister Dominique Voynet
Voynet is angry over accusations
But despite his conciliatory approach he succeeded in further stoking the row by also joking about the confrontation with his French opposite number.

At one point he responded to heckling opposition MPs with a French accented "pardon?" and later quipped: "Macho man - moi?".

'She got cold feet'

In the aftermath of the failed talks Mr Prescott had claimed Mme Voynet had "got cold feet" and said she was "exhausted and tired and could not understand the detail".

She hit back saying Mr Prescott had "lost his cool" during the talks. She then returned to the attack on Monday, clearly still furious at the way she had been criticised.

At a press conference she said Mr Prescott "doesn't honour the British tradition of diplomacy" and had done a "disservice" to both their images.

She argued the compromise deal he had brokered was rejected because it gave too many concessions to the US.

She was supported by French President Jacques Chirac who said: "I went to The Hague myself. I observed the way in which the French presidency worked, and I found that it was perfect."

"I can only regret an argument for which there is no reason, but I hope above all that we shall be able to get off again to a good start very quickly..."

Back in London, the diplomatic furore has again called into question Mr Prescott's future position in any reshuffled Labour cabinet after the next general election.

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See also:

28 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Prescott's problems
27 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Commons witnesses contrite Prescott
27 Nov 00 | Europe
'Male chauvinist' Prescott
26 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Dismay at climate summit failure
25 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Angry Prescott storms out
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