EU denies deal on fish quotas

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The Independent Online
A European Union "deal" over Britain's complaints on fish quota-hopping, lauded by Downing Street as a victory for the Prime Minister after last month's Amsterdam summit, was little more than a public relations sham, according to senior Brussels officials.

They confirmed that Spain's foreign minister, Abel Matutes, has been told in a letter from the European Commission President, Jacques Santer, that no "deal" was done with Tony Blair at Amsterdam. The letter to Madrid explains that Mr Santer advised Mr Blair of the longstanding legal remedies open to all EU governments for dealing with quota-hopping.

Last night, EU officials said that these remedies, which could involve putting the onus on Spanish boats registered in Britain to prove the existence of an economic link with the country for example by landing a percentage of their catch in United Kingdom ports, were well known to the previous British government. There was never at any stage an offer of additional concessions made to Mr Blair.

They also revealed that despite the fuss made about quota-hopping at Amsterdam, the Government has remained silent on the issue ever since.

"The ball is in London's court. We have outlined the possibilities, but we have heard absolutely nothing from them since then. They should in theory have launched consultations with the UK fishing industry but we have heard nothing," said a senior official.

Another source dismissed British efforts to present last month's discussions between Tony Blair and Mr Santer as "blatant media manipulation". Mr Blair's press officer Alastair Campbell is said to have telephoned a number of journalists covering the Amsterdam summit to "leak" details of the so-called deal.

The official said the British government could introduce rules to force Spanish boats to establish an economic link with Britain.

But they could not be discriminatory and Scottish fishermen could be expected to resist any change in the law which although designed to stamp out quota-hopping would have the effect of banning them from landing their catches in French ports.