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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Major Threatens EU Over Beef Ban

LONDON -- Prime Minister John Major said Tuesday unless there is agreement by June 21 on arrangements to lift a worldwide ban on British beef, Britain will disrupt European Union business with a policy of non-cooperation.


"This is not how I wish to do business in Europe. But I see no alternative," Major told the House of Commons to cheers from many of the rank-and-file of his Conservative Party.


"We cannot continue business as usual within Europe when we are faced with this clear disregard by some of our partners of reason, common sense and Britain's national interests."


Major's move was the most drastic yet in Britain's two-month confrontation with its EU partners over the beef ban because of fears of mad cow disease.


Major demanded a deal before a June 21-22 summit in Florence, Italy, when EU leaders are supposed to set in train key negotiations on closer integration of the 15-nation union.


He needed, Major said, before the summit the exemption of gelatin, fat and bull semen from the ban and a "clear framework in place" for lifting the whole ban.


"I say this with the greatest reluctance," Major added of his threat. "But the European Union operates through goodwill. If we do not benefit from goodwill from our partners, clearly we cannot reciprocate."


Opposition Labour Party leader Tony Blair accused Major of bungling since the crisis began when Britain announced a possible link between mad cow disease in cattle and a lethal brain-wasting disease in humans.


Beef sales have fallen throughout the EU. Britain, meanwhile, has increased progressively the number of cattle it promises to slaughter -- now 82,000 -- as a preventative measure and the price of lifting the ban.


"His government has shown a talent for error at every stage," said Blair.


Earlier, Major's Home Secretary, Michael Howard, hinted at retaliation, saying Britain would review every option.


The latest move underlined growing disarray and bitterness in the Conservative government over the beef crisis.


On Monday, seven of the 15 EU nations voted against relaxing the ban, imposed almost eight weeks ago over fears of a link between British beef and a lethal brain-wasting disease in humans.


A top aide to Major, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday he expected a meeting of EU farm ministers early June to reverse the latest setback and agree to exempt gelatin, fat and bull semen from the ban.


However, these are a fraction of Britain's ?600 million ($900 million) pre-ban beef exports and some commentators now believe the main ban could last until next year.


Major has ruled out illegal retaliation, such as withholding EU contributions, but Britain could be obstructive about votes on other issues.


The crisis has exacerbated Conservative divisions over Europe, with right-wingers stepping up anti-European rhetoric and demands for retaliation.


Teresa Gorman, another so-called Euroskeptic legislator, agreed that Britain should retaliate, but said Major wouldn't dare.


"They [the government] will roll over and stick their legs in the air while the Europeans trample all over them," said Gorman. "We cannot appease the unappeasable. We should turn our backs on Europe."