Sceptics attack Major on fish

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John Major yesterday came in for further sniping from Tory Euro-sceptics who believe he failed to take a sufficiently tough line at the Turin European summit on fishing rights and the single currency.

Reporting to MPs on the outcome of the meeting - marking the start of the Inter-Governmental Conference on the workings of the EU - the Prime Minister was also pressed over the possibility of a referendum on a single currency.

With the Cabinet expected to discuss the divisive poll tomorrow, senior Conservative Tim Rathbone said many Tories supported Mr Major's initial view that referenda were "not at all part of robust parliamentary procedures".

The Prime Minister said he did not think anything was remotely likely to come out of the IGC that could justify a referendum.

He said: "The one area where I think there may possibly be a case for a referendum is in the case of any decision taken to join a single currency, since that clearly isn't a matter that is likely to be determined before a general election."

Meanwhile Tory Eurosceptics pointed up the absence from Mr Major's statement of any reference to reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, on which the Government had promised to act, and they questioned the lack of opposition to monetary union.

John Redwood, the former Welsh secretary, complained of "daily damage" to the British fishing industry and urged the Government to consider unilateral action if it failed to get support for reform from other EU states.

Mr Major said opting out of the CFP would not be in the interests of the industry. "The great danger of that would be that in a measurably short period of years the fish would be so over-fished that there would be no fishing industry left."

Leading sceptic Bill Cash, Conservative MP for Stafford, drew attention to the Presidency Conclusions from the summit, which reaffirms the EU's commitment to economic and monetary union, and asked if Mr Major intended to reject a single currency.

The Prime Minister explained that the single currency was being discussed in parallel to the IGC and he repeated his doubts that the 1999 deadline could be achieved.