Maastricht Rebels

The Maastricht Rebels were British members of Parliament (MPs) belonging to the then governing Conservative Party who refused to support the government of Prime Minister John Major in a series of votes in the House of Commons on the issue of the implementation of the Maastricht Treaty (Treaty on European Union) in British law.

The Maastricht Rebellion was a major event in the life of John Major's troubled second term as Prime Minister (1992–1997). Major's party had a small majority, thus giving the relatively small number of rebels disproportionate influence: for example, there were 22 rebels on the second reading of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill in May 1992, and the government's majority at the time was only 18.

The rebellion had the support of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former Party Chairman Norman Tebbit.

Significant events in the rebellion

John Major 1996
Prime Minister John Major fought for the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty.[1]
Margaret Thatcher cropped2
Margaret Thatcher actively opposed the Maastricht Treaty.[2] She declared in a speech in the House of Lords that she "could never have signed that Treaty".[3]

At the height of the rebellion, the 1993 Christchurch by-election was held, where a Conservative majority of 23,000 was turned into a Liberal Democrat majority of 16,000. Conservative showings in opinion polls were as low as 23%. John Major threatened the rebels with a general election (despite one only being held a year earlier).

The Labour Party brought-in heart attack victims and MPs who had just had surgery, the stretcher vote, to vote in an effort to bring the government down. The loyalists and rebels in the Conservative Party also brought in their own stretcher vote; for example Bill Cash organised for one MP (Bill Walker) who was seriously ill to fly from Scotland secretly, then hid him at the rebels' headquarters in Great College Street, before, with Labour connivance, hiding him in the family room of the Commons so that the Conservative whips would not know; the government consequently lost a vote.

At Third Reading, on 20 May 1993, the Labour whip was to abstain. Despite this, 66 Labour MPs chose to vote against the Bill, while five (Andrew Faulds, John Home Robertson, Calum MacDonald, Giles Radice and Brian Sedgemore) supported the Government. The Bill passed Third Reading 292–112.[4]

On 22 July 1993, on a Labour amendment to postpone incorporation of the Treaty until the Government adopted the 27th Amendment thereto (the Protocol on Social Policy or "Social Chapter"), the government tied 317–317 against the combined forces of some of the rebels, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and others. It was thus only by Speaker Betty Boothroyd's casting vote that the Government won (the Speaker casting her vote in accordance with Speaker Denison's rule not to create a majority where none exists). The remaining rebels (who had abstained on the amendment) then joined their colleagues to defeat the main take-note motion 324–316.

On the following day, it emerged, on inspection of the Division List, that the Government Whip and teller of the Opposition votes Irvine Patnick had failed to notice an overcount of one vote for the Labour amendment. Had he done so, it would have meant a clear win without a reliance being placed on the Speaker. On the next day (Friday) the government tabled a reworded motion to its predecessor, seeking the confidence of the House in their policy on the Social Chapter instead of merely "taking note" thereof. As a result, the Government easily won the substantive question by 339–299. Had the government lost this motion of confidence, a dissolution would have been requested and probably granted.

Bill Cash set-up the European Foundation to fund legal challenges to the government. Opposition to Maastricht led to the foundation of the Anti-Federalist League which ultimately led to the creation of the UK Independence Party (UKIP). Certain rebels later went on to join that political party, such as Christopher Gill and Richard Body, with Roger Knapman serving as their leader from 2002 to 2006.

The Maastricht rebels continued to harass the government on European issues, coming close to bringing the Government down three times. They repeatedly called Major's bluff on an early dissolution of Parliament. On 23 November 1994, Nick Budgen asked him whether he had spoken to the Queen about dissolving Parliament. On 25 November 1994, Christopher Gill stated he would sooner resign as a Conservative than vote for the Bill. All those Conservatives who rebelled over the EC Finance Bill on 28 November 1994 had the Conservative whip withdrawn.

Deselection was threatened, so those Conservative MPs would not be able to stand at the next election, although at that time it was mostly a decision for the party members in their Constituency Association. Budgen summed the attitude of the rebels up with this quote: "It would be my general feeling that the transference of power to Europe was so important a matter as to require a vote against any organisation and any party that wished to transfer that power."[5] In 1995, Major called an early leadership election to attempt to reimpose his authority on the party, and won. However, the infighting continued, and the Conservatives were heavily defeated in the general election of May 1997.

Rebels who had whip withdrawn

Those who had the whip withdrawn following the EC Finance Bill:

Other MPs who had whip withdrawn for failure to support the government on a confidence issue related to Maastricht:

Rebels who also voted against the Government

Rebels who abstained

Other rebels

Changes to party rules since 1997

After the Conservatives' catastrophic defeat at the 1997 election, blamed in part on the embarrassment caused by the open rebelliousness and infighting of elements in the party, changes were made to the party's procedures to reduce the freedom of backbench MPs to rebel. Local constituency associations are now permitted to select as candidates only members of the approved party list or MPs with the whip.

The party leadership could therefore require a rebellious MP (or an MP involved in a scandal) to be deselected as a candidate by removing his or her name from the Candidates' List or by removing the whip as was done to Howard Flight at the 2005 general election. Local members who refuse to obey the instructions of Conservative Central Office can have their Association suspended (put on "Special Measures"), as was done to the Slough Association at that election when they refused to deselect their candidate.

See also


  1. ^ Menon, Anand (7 February 2017). "Unhappy anniversary: Maastricht 25 years on". The Times. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  2. ^ "Thatcher and her tussles with Europe". BBC News. 8 April 2013. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  3. ^ "European Communities (Amendment) Bill". Margaret Thatcher Foundation. 7 June 1993. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  4. ^ Davies, Patricia Wynn (20 May 1993). "Tory MPs in record revolt: Lamont leaves door open for ERM re-entry". The Independent.
  5. ^ "Obituaries: Nicholas Budgen: An arch Euro-sceptic". BBC News. 26 October 1998. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  6. ^ Goodwin, Stephen (9 March 1993). "Maastricht Vote: Labour jubilant at Government's Commons defeat: Opposition MPs claim amendment 28 result is a 'humiliation' for John Major as Conservatives appear dismayed and confused". The Independent. ISSN 0951-9467. OCLC 185201487. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
Anti-Federalist League

The Anti-Federalist League was a small cross-party organisation in the United Kingdom, formed in 1991 to campaign against the Maastricht Treaty. It is mainly remembered now as the forerunner of the UK Independence Party.

The main founder of the Anti-Federalist League was Alan Sked, lecturer at the London School of Economics, leading figure in the Bruges Group and former official of the Liberal Party. The Maastricht Treaty, which greatly increased the powers of the European Commission, was widely unpopular according to opinion polls, but all three of the main parties had pledged to support its ratification in the House of Commons. Sked and others felt that this denied voters a say on a crucial constitutional issue. Running AFL candidates was supposed to make good this shortfall in the democratic process.

The League stood seventeen candidates in the 1992 general election, but failed to make any impact or attract any press attention. It lost all its deposits. The following year, Alan Sked represented it in by-elections in Newbury (gaining 1% of the vote) and Christchurch (1.6%).

Amidst extraordinary scenes in the House of Commons, and in the teeth of intense opposition from a minority of Conservative MPs known as the Maastricht Rebels, the Maastricht Treaty finally passed into law. Many members of the Anti-Federalist League concluded that with the Treaty in place, the only option for anti-federalists was to campaign for complete British withdrawal from the European Union. To this end, Sked and others met in late 1993 to set up a full-blown political party: the UK Independence Party. Not all members of the League followed Sked into the new organisation, but the party did effectively supersede the League, which ceased to exist.

Bernard Jenkin

Sir Bernard Christison Jenkin (born 9 April 1959) is a British Conservative politician. He has been Member of Parliament (MP) for Harwich and North Essex since the 2010 general election. He was first elected to represent Colchester North in the 1992 general election, and went on to represent North Essex before the current Harwich and North Essex constituency was created.He was elected Chairman of the Public Administration Select Committee in May 2010. He was Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, and had responsibility for candidates until 7 November 2006 when this role was given to John Maples. Jenkin's Deputy Chairman role came to an end when, during a cabinet reshuffle, he was offered another frontbench position, which he declined, reportedly saying to Mr Cameron that only a return to the shadow cabinet would interest him. Shortly after returning to the back benches, he used racial descriptor "coloured" (rather than the correct term, "person of colour") when referring to a British Asian Conservative A-List candidate Ali Miraj.He is a long-standing critic of the European Union, believing that the European Union undermines the United Kingdom's national sovereignty, and he was one of the Maastricht Rebels during the premiership of John Major. In the 2016 EU Referendum, he supported Brexit and since 2017 has been one of the most vocal supporters of the Eurosceptic pressure group Leave Means Leave.He is in favour of marriage equality and was nominated for a Stonewall award in 2013. The environment is one of his main policy concerns: The Climate Coalition awarded him the Green Heart Hero Award for his eco-friendly lifestyle choices.

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British Influence

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