Election '97 : PM gets short shrift over promises on quota-hopping

Few of the fishermen in the port of Newlyn, where decommissioned boats were being burnt last year, had much time for John Major's tougher line on "quota-hopping" when the Prime Minister's campaign tour pulled into the harbour.

Sir James Goldsmith, leader of the Referendum Party, would have a walk- over if the Cornish fishing village formed its own constituency.

At the turn of the century, Newlyn became famous for its own school of English impressionist painting, mainly of the fisherfolk, but the fishermen there now say that they are threatened with extinction like the fish stocks off Land's End.

Sir James chose Newlyn to launch his national campaign for the Referendum Party and there was plenty of evidence on the quayside yesterday that the fishermen are anti-European.

Fisherman Mick Faulkner is standing for the Referendum Party and a number of his supporters were on the fish dock after the boats tied up.

Mick Mahon, skipper of the J-Anne, and press officer for the local branch of the Referendum Party, said: "Major is going to make promises that he cannot keep three weeks before the election. He should have done it five years ago."

That point was dismissed as "nonsense" by the Prime Minister said when it was put to him by The Independent at a morning press conference in the Queen's Hotel overlooking the bay.

He said he would have needed the vision of Mystic Meg to predict that the quota system would be used by foreign fishermen to take a share of the British catch.

Mr Major's answers are unlikely to convince Dave Hicks, 39, who scrapped his boat last year, and is now reduced to crewing another vessel.

"At the moment, we stand to be completely ruined. At this rate, British fishermen will be extinct in 20 years. We accept we have to be a regulated industry, but it ought to be regulated by a British Parliament, not by bureaucrats in Brussels," said Mr Hicks, who will be voting for the Referendum Party.

There was a banner saying "Rule Britannia not Brussels" across the dock just in case Mr Major had failed to get the message when he went on board one of the few boats with a Conservative owner.

He was accompanied by David Harris, the well-liked Tory MP who stood down after his wife became terminally ill and has been unable to find another seat. His departure will lose the Tories a few more votes.

One of the tribe of local artists, Tamsin Powell, 45, said she had voted for Mr Harris last time, but was now undecided. She was floating towards the Liberal Democrats but - like the fishermen - felt they were too pro- European. "So I don't know what I'll do," she said.

Mr Harris said: "Jimmy Goldsmith is not going to do well here. He launched his big thing here, but that was the beginning of his campaign. There is much more to this election than just one form of referendum."

However, Mr Major may have pulled back one vote when he met local roadsweeper, Simon Ralph, 22, who voted Conservative last time. "I was encouraged that he took time out to speak to the average man like me," Mr Ralph said.

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