Wednesday, June 22

An eel in a tub of grease

Tony Blair has changed tack over the British rebate, offering flexibility in return for a deal on the EU budget.

Following talks yesterday with Swedish counterpart Goran Persson in London, the prime minister described the rebate as "an anomaly that has to go", and made clear that he believes talks should begin again once Britain takes over the EU presidency in July.

The Guardian, who likes being kind to the PM, says the surprise shift is designed to outflank Franco-German opposition to reform.

Only a week ago, Blair told MPs that the rebate was not "to be negotiated away".

Foreign secretary Jack Straw said yesterday that he hoped Britain could negotiate a deal.

He said: "It is in nobody's interests for us to go into 2006 without an agreement, or even 2007."Both the German and French media have described Blair as the strongest leader in Europe.

The Conservatives condemned the shift in strategy, with shadow chancellor George Osborne describing Blair as "more slippery than an eel in a tub of grease".

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