Anger over pounds 30m for Spanish fishermen

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The Independent Online
Tory MPs were up in arms last night over a compensation claim of more than pounds 30m for Spanish fishermen imposed on Britain after a judgment by the advocate-general of the European Court of Justice on "flag-of- convenience" fishing.

Douglas Hogg, the Minister of Agriculture, was studying the interim judgment, but MPs said there was little hope of its being overturned. The interim ruling will signal the go-ahead for dozens of Spaniards to pursue damages claims in the UK High Court. Cornish fishermen are likely to stage protests at the findings, which come after warnings that they face cuts of more than one-third in EU fishing quotas from 1 January.

The ruling will strengthen British demands for the European Court of Justice to be reformed at next year's inter- governmental conference on the EU. It is certain to lead to a battle over fishing rights at the fisheries council of ministers next month, which is due to endorse the quota cuts. Senior Tory backbenchers plan to use the judgment to condemn the attack on Britain's sovereignty.

The Government was found guilty at an earlier hearing of breaking EU laws by trying to keep the Spaniards out of UK waters. The advocate- general said governments that break European laws should be forced to pay damages to the victims.

In 1988 Spanish boat owners set up front companies in the UK to qualify for a share in Britain's EU fishing quotas. The Government passed the British Merchant Shipping Act, which said such boats had to be 75 per cent UK-owned and run by British bosses. But in 1991 the European Court ruled the law was contrary to EU rules.