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.
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.
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." 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.
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:
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.
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.Bill Walker (Scottish Conservative politician)
William Connoll Walker OBE (20 February 1929 – 6 June 2017), known as Bill Walker, was deputy chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party. He was a member of Parliament from 1979 to 1997 and one of the Maastricht Rebels against the embattled administration of John Major during the mid-1990s. He never held any office in government.Bloomberg speech
The Bloomberg speech was a party political address given by the then Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron during the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition but without the support of the then Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats on the 23 January 2013 at Bloomberg London regarding the UK’s future relationship with Europe in which the Prime Minister called for fundamental reform of the European Union and called for a in–out referendum to be held in the UK on whether or not it should remain a member state of the European Union.British Influence
British Influence, formally the Centre for British Influence Through Europe, was an independent, cross-party, pro-single market foreign affairs think tank based in the United Kingdom. The group was founded in 2012 to make the case for the European Union amid increasing calls for British withdrawal from the EU. It appointed Danny Alexander (Liberal Democrat), Kenneth Clarke (Conservative) and Peter Mandelson (Labour) as joint presidents ahead of a possible 2017 referendum.. In 2016 it changed its name to The Influence Group and advised UK businesses on the single market.Business for Britain
Business for Britain is a eurosceptic campaign group which seeks renegotiation of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. The campaign was founded in April 2013 by five hundred business leaders, including Phones 4u co founder John Caudwell and former Marks & Spencer chairman Stuart Rose.Business for New Europe
Business for New Europe (BNE) is a pressure group that advocates a positive case for the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union. It has offices in London and Brussels.Business for New Europe was set up in 2006 by Roland Rudd, a former journalist on the Financial Times and the founder and chairman of the financial public relations firm Finsbury, to promote the benefits of the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union. BNE provides a platform for debate on European issues to business leaders and policy makers, seeking to ensure that a reasoned, pro-European voice is heard in the UK.BNE's Advisory Council consists of Chairmen and CEOs of FTSE 100 companies and its Executive consists of experts in foreign and economic policy, including former heads of the UK diplomatic service and senior journalists.The organisation is not-for-profit and is funded by donations from the private sector.Christopher Gill
Christopher John Fred Gill RD (born 28 October 1936) is a politician in the United Kingdom, and a former member of the National Executive Committee of the UK Independence Party (UKIP). He is also the current President of The Freedom Association (TFA). A former Conservative Party Member of Parliament, he was one of the Maastricht Rebels of the mid-1990s.EU three
The EU three, also known as EU big three, EU triumvirate or EU trio, refers to France, Germany and Italy, a group that consists of the three large founding members of the European Union; or France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, a group of countries of the European Union, especially during the negotiations with Iran.Edward Leigh
Sir Edward Julian Egerton Leigh (born 20 July 1950) is a British Conservative Party politician who has served as a Member of Parliament since 1983.
Leigh speaks regularly in parliament on civil liberties, constitutional, ecclesiastical and economic matters. He has represented Gainsborough, Lincolnshire in the House of Commons as its Member of Parliament since 1983 (representing its predecessor constituency, Gainsborough and Horncastle, until 1997).Leigh was knighted in the Queen's 2013 Birthday Honours for "public and political service" and in 2015 was awarded the Légion d'honneur by the French Government.
Initially nicknamed "the Viscount" in parliamentary circles alluding to his landed gentry background, Leigh now has a reputation at Westminster for being a “serial rebeller” and an independent-minded MP, often voting against his own political party where it conflicts with his own principles. He was one of the original Maastricht Rebels and reportedly sacked for organising Euro-rebels among ministers. In 2003, Leigh famously opposed military intervention in Iraq; he has since called for those who voted for the Iraq War, and are still seeking to justify their support for it, to be held to account.He served as the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee from 2001 to 2010, investigating government waste and seeking value for money in public expenditure. Sir Edward stepped down at the end of the parliamentary session in 2010, as it is customary for an Opposition MP to hold this post.Leigh has edited and authored three books: Right Thinking (1988); The Nation that forgot God (2008); and Monastery of the Mind (2012)European Scrutiny Committee
The European Scrutiny Committee is a select committee of the House of Commons in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The remit of the Committee is to assess the legal and political importance of each EU document, and decide which EU documents are debated. The committee also monitors the activities of UK Ministers in the Council, and keeps legal, procedural and institutional developments in the EU under review.European Union (Accessions) Act 2003
The European Union (Accessions) Act 2003 (c 35) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which ratified and legislated for the accession of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia to the European Union from 1 May 2004. It received royal assent on 13 November 2003.List of Permanent Representatives of the United Kingdom to the European Union
The Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the European Union is the United Kingdom's foremost diplomatic representative to the European Union, and head of the United Kingdom Representation to the European Union (UKREP). His official title is Her Britannic Majesty's Permanent Representative to the European Union.Nucleus (advocacy group)
Nucleus was a British-European advocacy group, the forerunner to British Influence (sometimes The Centre for British Influence). Nucleus was based in London, with additional operations in Brussels.
Founded in 2010, Nucleus promoted a 'euro-realist' British approach to European political and business affairs. As well as regular bulletins, Nucleus produced commentaries, and hosted briefings, seminars, and networking events both in London and Brussels. Nucleus was unaffiliated with any political party, and was a partner in both the British Brussels Network, along with Business for New Europe, the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium, and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, and the pan-European EuropAssociation.In 2013 Nucleus relaunched as British Influence, with a heavier campaigning focus, in response to the call by Prime Minister David Cameron for an in/out referendum on the UK's European Union membershipOffice of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels
The Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels is part of the Executive Office and is the focus of Northern Ireland's relations with the institutions of the European Union.
The Office of the Northern Ireland Executive, operates under the umbrella of the UK Permanent Representation to the European Union, as do the Brussels offices of the Scottish Government and Welsh Government.Representative of the European Union, London
The Representative of the European Union (specifically the Representative of the European Commission and the Representative of the European Parliament) in London are the diplomatic missions of the European Commission and the European Parliament in the United Kingdom.They are both located in Europa House, 32 Smith Square. The building was formerly the Conservative Party's Central Office from the late 1950s until 2004 and was famous as the place where the Conservatives planned and celebrated their election victories. It was then left vacant until 2009 when the EU chose it as their new London office, along with a new personalised postcode – SW1P 3EU. There was some criticism of the amount spent by the EU in updating the interior of the building, which allegedly included the installation of bomb and bullet-proof windows.Richard Ryder, Baron Ryder of Wensum
Richard Andrew Ryder, Baron Ryder of Wensum (born 4 February 1949) is a British Conservative Party politician. A former Member of Parliament (MP) and government minister, he was made a life peer in 1997 and is now a member of the House of Lords.Richard Shepherd
Sir Richard Charles Scrimgeour Shepherd (born 6 December 1942) is a Conservative politician in the United Kingdom. He was Member of Parliament for the constituency of Aldridge-Brownhills from 1979 to 2015.
A Eurosceptic, Shepherd was one of the Maastricht Rebels that had the whip withdrawn over opposition to John Major's legislation on the European Union. Shepherd is also a libertarian, and had a three line whip imposed against him by Margaret Thatcher when he introduced an amendment loosening the Official Secrets Act 1911.Right to Vote
Right to Vote is a group of Conservative Party members and MPs in The Independent Group who advocate holding a referendum on the Brexit withdrawal agreement. It was founded in the aftermath of the UK government losing the first meaningful vote on its withdrawal agreement with the EU.