Sceptics defy Major on EU fishing vote

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Tory Euro-sceptics refused to support the Government last night in a Common Fisheries Policy debate in the first act of defiance since John Major won the July leadership election.

MPs in the so-called "group of eight" rebels formerly deprived of the party whip either abstained on the vote or arranged to stay away.

MPs were debating the European Union deal that allows Spanish and Portuguese vessels to fish in the so-called Irish Box, one third of which is in British waters. European fisheries ministers are due to meet in Luxembourg on Thursday to discuss its enforcement.

Sir Teddy Taylor, the MP for Southend East, said: "I can't vote for this." Sir Teddy said he had voted against a Labour amendment because "both parties are trying to mislead themselves. The debate is irrelevant because the Council of Ministers will decide this on Thursday by a majority. Even if they didn't the Spanish fishermen would go to court and claim discrimination. I just feel so depressed about the future of the fishing industry."

The Government was not at risk of losing the vote but the debate confirmed the outright opposition to the fisheries policy of the Euro-rebels and fears among MPs in parties over the policing of the new arrangements. "I support the Government consistently - except on these EC measures," Sir Teddy said.

Ministers will discuss rigorous requirements for vessels to report their movements and catches on Thursday. But a compromise would reduce the number of reports from boats fishing in their own member state's waters and for those at sea for less than 72 hours.

Another rebel, John Wilkinson, the MP for Ruislip-Northwood, said during the debate: "We should withdraw from the CFP, which has been ecologically a disaster."