Tebbit ready to sacrifice Major on Maastricht

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The Independent Online
THE DEFEAT of the Maastricht treaty was more vital to Britain than the survival of John Major as Prime Minister, Lord Tebbit said yesterday. The former Conservative Party chairman added: 'Whether the Prime Minister would resign or not, is not material in terms of the debate.'

But Michael Heseltine replied last night that the fate of the entire Government rested on majority support for the ratification process due to restart on 4 November in the Commons.

Countering threats of a mass backbench revolt against the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, the President of the Board of Trade told BBC 2's Newsnight: 'The Prime minister has put his credibility, the credibility of the Cabinet, and indeed the good word of the Conservative Party, in electing him on that mandate, behind this procedure and now we have to make progress.'

The Prime Minister's office had stressed earlier yesterday its determination to go ahead with the 'paving' debate and committee-stage scrutiny of the Bill well before the Edinburgh summit on 11 December.

In response to backbench protests on Thursday night about the high-speed move, the Prime Minister was said to have told Sir Marcus Fox, chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, that while the Government had no intention of 'railroading' the Bill through the Commons, it did want progress made before the final summit of the British presidency of the Community.

Mr Major warned No 10 advisers this week that he had given his word at Maastricht, and that if party colleagues did not trust him, 'they'd better find someone they do trust'.

But Lord Tebbit told Radio 4's The World at One: 'He tied himself to David Mellor, to the exchange rate mechanism and to the immediate closure of a number of coal mines. None of those things have really stood up.'

He also pointed out that even if Mr Major did feel compelled to resign over a Commons defeat on Maastricht, it would 'merely mean that the Conservative Party would have to choose a new leader . . . I don't think that would be too difficult a matter. I'm not worried that it would result in a general election.'

If Labour was not persuaded of the need for haste it could yet vote against the Government in the 'paving' debate and Mr Major could be defeated even if the Liberal Democrats backed the Bill. There are some Tory rebels who so despise Mr Major that they might vote against the Government if they thought it would help to get rid of him.