Rebels threaten to vote Major out: Tories say they will support a censure motion to prevent ratification of Maastricht in defiance of the House

HARD-CORE Tory rebels warned last night that they might vote against John Major on a Commons censure motion - and force his resignation as Prime Minister - if he threatened to defy a Social Chapter defeat in the House on Thursday.

But the Government was given an ideal excuse for delay when Lord Rees-Mogg, a Maastricht critic, won the right to mount a High Court challenge in which he will argue that the treaty legislation is defective. It could take until September, or even October, to resolve that action if it went to the House of Lords. And the Government, if it lost the action, would be forced into protracted amendment of the legislation.

The Prime Minister's office repeated there was no question of Mr Major ratifying the treaty before the courts had reached a judgment.

Meanwhile, on the Westminster front, the war of nerves escalated between Government whips and Tory dissidents, against a background of growing Opposition confidence that the Government could lose this week's Maastricht votes.

With suspicion running rampant in the Commons, it was feared that Mr Major might react badly to defeat on Thursday and say that once the courts had cleared the way for ratification, he would sign up to the treaty, without the Social Chapter, in accordance with the letter of the legislation but in defiance of the will of the House.

The rebel hard core said if Mr Major tried to do that they would consider voting with the Opposition on a censure motion. The Independent quickly identified six MPs in that diehard category; it would take only ten to bring Mr Major down.

The rebels derided the suggestion that a government defeat on a censure motion would trigger a general election. They dismissed the idea that the Queen would grant a dissolution when the Conservative Party had an overall majority of 18, and there had been an election only last year.

One of the hard core said that while he would be willing to sacrifice Mr Major, if he had to, he would not risk an election: 'The treaty is more important than Mr Major, but it is not more important than the Conservative government.'

Another rebel said that while he felt great loyalty to Mr Major, he even more strongly opposed the treaty: 'I think he would be very unwise to make it an issue of confidence in himself.'

Mr Major was most careful not even to hint at that in a lengthy BBC television interview on Sunday.

As for Lord Rees-Mogg's legal challenge, the Government decided not to oppose his application for a full hearing, but said it would counter his arguments when the case came back to the High Court next Monday.

Lord Rees-Mogg says the Government has acted unconstitutionally by failing to give Parliament the chance to vote on some parts of the Maastricht agreement. Sydney Kentridge QC, for the Foreign Secretary, told the court the Government had agreed not bring the the treaty into force until the legal process was complete.

Leolin Price QC, for Lord Rees-Mogg, told Lord Justice Watkins and Mr Justice Auld that he would seek a prohibition order preventing ratification in what was 'perhaps the most important constitutional issue to be faced by the courts for 300 years'.

He said that the ratification process was 'legally and constitutionally flawed' because ministers had failed to consult Parliament over three aspects of the agreement signed at Maastricht 18 months ago. Lord Rees-Mogg, former editor of the Times and fierce critic of the Prime Minister, challenges the proposed use of the Royal Prerogative to ratify the transfer of foreign and defence policy powers to Brussels, the Social Chapter opt-out and provisions to increase the powers of the European Parliament. That attempt to 'bypass' Parliament was 'legally unsustainable', according to the peer's lawyers.

'I think we have a very strong case in law,' Lord Rees-Mogg said afterwards. 'If this were an ordinary case, our chances of success would be between 80 per cent and 90 per cent. But of course this is not an ordinary case; it is a highly important case involving the affairs of state and the courts must work within the framework of reality like everybody else.'

Leading article, page 17

Mark Lawson, page 18

Andrew Marr, page 19

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London