Resolute band of followers gather in the Lords to hear Tory leader-in-exile's Maastricht rallying cry

BARONESS THATCHER stiffened the resolve of John Major's parliamentary rebels yesterday, telling the Lords that she would never have signed the Maastricht treaty and warning that rejection of a referendum would be a betrayal of the

electorate.

Speaking at the start of a two-day Second Reading debate on the ratification Bill, the former prime minister said: 'It is our country's future that is at stake.'

Although her routine anti-EC speech had been preceded by expressions of strong EC support from Lord Wakeham, Leader of the House, Lord Richard, the Opposition leader, and Lord Jenkins, Liberal Democrats' leader - Lady Thatcher's rallying cry found its vital target among a Commons contingent gathered to hear the leader-in- exile.

Significantly, visitors included Michael Forsyth, Minister of State at the Department of Employment and one of the remaining Maastricht opponents in the ministerial ranks - reduced to 13 after the sacking of Edward Leigh from the Department of Trade and Industry.

Lady Thatcher warned the Lords that she had had her 'fingers burned' when the European Commission had broken assurances over majority voting under the terms of her own Single European Act. 'And it's written on my heart.'

However, the Maastricht treaty went much further in extending the powers of the Commission; a European super-state lay at the end of the track.

In an evident reprimand for Mr Major, she then added: 'I personally could never have signed this treaty. The Bill will pass considerable further powers irrevocably from Westminster to Brussels, and by extending majority voting will undermine age-old parliamentary and legal institutions.'

As for a referendum, Lady Thatcher said the voters had never been given a chance to vote on the treaty and, given the extent of the powers being renounced, that was a disgrace. 'To hand over the people's parliamentary rights on the scale of the Maastricht treaty, without the consent of the people in a referendum, would be to betray the trust they have placed in us,' she said.

The main response to her attack came from Lord Howe, the former Chancellor, Foreign Secretary and Commons Leader who helped to precipitate her downfall with his 1990 resignation. He said: 'It is easy for Robinson Crusoe to be monarch of all he surveys, but it is much more difficult for him to persuade anyone to take him seriously.'

Inside Parliament. . .6

Andrew Marr. . .22

Referendum call. . .23

(Photograph omitted)

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