Straw caught out over gut reaction on haggis

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JACK Straw, the Foreign Secretary, sailed into a fresh food fight last night when he declared that Jacques Chirac had been right to deride Scotland's national dish.

Mr Straw was overheard telling colleagues that: "Chirac was right about the haggis", at his Westminster gym yesterday morning.

The French president's jibes had provoked outrage earlier this week after he was overheard telling his Russian and German counterparts that he could not trust a country with such bad food.

Mr Straw made the joke while he was taking part in an exercise bike class at the popular House of Commons gym early yesterday. When contacted by The Scotsman, the Foreign Office said it had to admit to a rare lapse in his diplomatic prowess.

"We got caught guv," his spokesman said - making no attempt to retract the Foreign Secretary's disparaging remarks. "It is time for us to duck our heads below the parapet, we are not saying anything more on it."

Mr Chirac was overheard by a French newspaper reporter denouncing haggis while at a four-way diplomatic summit - even claiming that his distaste for haggis sparked the demise of France's relationship with NATO. Lord Robertson, its former secretary general, had made him try an "unappetising" Scottish delicacy", the French president told his counterparts. "That is where our problems with NATO come from."

Mr Straw's spokesman did not say whether the Foreign Secretary endorsed Mr Chirac's view that the haggis offer was to blame for the breakdown in relations.

"He was having a bit of fun on the nature of haggis," he said last night. "I don't think he would like us to draw any conclusions from that."

In contrast to Mr Straw and Mr Chirac's distaste for Scotland's iconic delicacy, a robust defence of haggis was mounted in the Commons.

Eleanor Laing, the Shadow Scottish Secretary suggested that Tony Blair assure Mr Chirac at the G8 summit that Scotland's agriculture and food production was "a major economic asset".