Maastricht Rebels

From Academic Kids

In the politics of the United Kingdom, the Maastricht Rebels were MPs of the then governing Conservative Party who refused to support the government of John Major in a House of Commons vote to secure ratification by the United Kingdom of the Maastricht treaty (Treaty on European Union). This was particularly devastating, as there were 22 rebels as of the second reading of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill in May 1992, and the government's majority was only 18. This in effect made every vote on Europe a vote of no confidence. The rebels were more numerous than the governments notional majority thus the Major government was a de facto minority government.

At the height of the rebellion was the Christchurch by-election, where a Conservative majority of 23,000 was turned into a Liberal Democrat majority of 16,000. The Conservatives fell to a mere 23 points in the opinion polls. John Major threatened the rebels with a general election, which would have meant annihilation for the Conservative Party. The rebels called his bluff. On November 23rd 1994, Nick Budgen asked him whether he had spoken to the Queen about dissolving Parliament, knowing full well that he wouldn't dare. On November 25th 1994, Christopher Gill stated that he would sooner resign as a Conservative than vote for the Bill. All those Conservatives who rebelled over the EC Finance Bill on November 28 had the Conservative whip withdrawn. They continued to harass the government on the European issue until the Conservatives were heavily deveated in the general election of May 1997.

It was an enormously tense time. The Labour party was bringing heart attack victims and MPs who had just had brain surgery (the "stretcher vote") in to vote in an effort to bring the government down. The loyalists in the Conservative party also brought in their own stretcher vote - Chris Patten suffering from gastro enteritis was brought in a wheelchair as was Michael Heseltine who was recovering from a heart attack. 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 wouldn't know, consequently the government lost the vote. On the 22nd July 1993 on the 27th Amendment to the Maastricht Treaty (to sign up to the Social Chapter), the government tied 317-317 with the rebels, Labour party and Liberals, it was thus only by the Speaker's casting vote that the government won.

Bill Cash was absolutely fundamental to the rebellion, organising the finance and offices to set up the European Foundation and to fund legal challenges to the government. Opposition to Maastricht lead to the foundation of the Anti-Federalist League which ultimately led to the creation of UKIP.

Those MPs were under enormous pressure: deselection was threatened (so they wouldn't be able to stand at the next election), and Conservative Whips spat at them. They were constantly harassed by the party. They came within a whisker of bringing John Major down three times. Nick 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".


Those who had the whip withdrawn included:

Other rebels were:


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