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1996 - Mr Major’s Comments on the British Beef Ban

Below are extracts of Mr Major’s comments on the British beef ban, made during an interview in London held on Wednesday 19th June 1996


QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked how Europe could regain trust in Britain after the beef crisis as other countries had also suffered].

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me make a point about beef because you are quite right, the problems with beef have hit countries right the way across the European Union, the beef industry in Italy of course and in other countries across the whole of the European Union. I think it is not so much what the politicians can say, I would hope that the consumers would listen to what bodies like the World Health Organisation say - they say that British beef is safe and by definition Italian beef is safe and so is other beef - and I think it is to people like the World Health Organisation and the scientists that people should listen, and they are overwhelmingly of the view that it is safe to eat beef, both British beef and other beef, and it is a great sadness that consumer confidence has been damaged by some of the publicity there has been over recent months and that is doing great damage to beef industries across Europe. I would like to see that confidence restored speedily.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if thought agreement could be reached in Florence].

PRIME MINISTER:

It is certainly reachable. The framework document that has been published is a very good basis for an agreement and although I can’t be certain at this moment there will be an agreement, I think it is certainly possible that we will get an agreement. If there is goodwill on both sides and if people are prepared to look at the rationale for the decisions they take and look at the science, then I think there is a distinct possibility that we will get an agreement in Florence and I hope that will prove to be the case.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if the Italian Government had run out of patience with the British].

PRIME MINISTER:

I think public opinion across Europe should ask themselves why did the British do this? The British don’t normally do that. What was it that drove Britain to decide on a non-cooperation policy? I will tell you what it was.

It was the non-cooperation of many of our partners in Europe and I will tell you exactly what happened. After the beef crisis broke, we came forward time and time again with plans to proceed and end the crisis and our partners in Europe did not sit down and talk to us about this; they said “Very interesting, now go away and come back with something better”. That is no way to treat a nation like Britain. Then, when we had got the agreement of the Commission, the unanimous recommendation of the Commission to lift the ban on beef derivatives, supported by the Commission, supported by the scientists, a number of our European partners voted against that recommendation, against the Commission and against science. There was no logic in that.

I think people who say Britain has behaved unreasonable should ask themselves what would their government have done if the rest of Europe had continued to ban an export that the scientists said was safe and that the Commission said was safe and that the ban could be lifted. They wouldn’t have wanted to accept that and neither could I because our partners were not behaving cooperatively, they were not behaving reasonable in that instance and we needed to ensure that there was a proper, rational debate. That was the reason for the British policy and I said then that when we have that rational debate, when the ban on the beef derivatives is lifted - and that has now been lifted - and when we have a framework and agreement about how to tackle this crisis then we can end our non-cooperation policy.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if Britain would leave the European Community if no agreement was reached at Florence].

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don’t think so. This is an important issue this question of beef, right the way across Europe it is important and it is important to Britain, there are 650,000 people whose jobs depend on the beef industry but there is a very wide range of issues in Europe. Britain is a member of the European Union, we have been a member of the European Union for a very long time and we are going to stay as a member of the European Union. We will put forward our own distinctive ideas about how the Union will develop, sometimes our partners may agree with those, sometimes they may not, but we are in the European Union and we intend to stay in the European Union.