Although MPs believed Charles Kennedy, the party's president, had left the door ajar to vote against, Mr Ashdown seemed to kick it shut later.
'I am not prepared, and neither is my party, to vote against something we have believed in for a very long time simply to behave in a thoroughly discredited, irresponsible opportunist manner in the way Labour is doing,' Mr Ashdown said on BBC radio. 'I believe it's a vote of confidence in Mr Major's future. If the Government want to make it a vote of confidence in the Government that is up to them. I will vote for Maastricht in its present form.'
However, one senior party source said the Liberal Democrats would vote against the Government if there was a cast-iron guarantee of a general election - a guarantee which they know is unlikely to be forthcoming.
Earlier, Mr Kennedy had said that if Mr Major made it an issue of confidence, 'we will behave like an opposition because we have no confidence (in the Government)'.
David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist MP for Upper Bann, said he expected the nine Unionists to vote against the Government. 'We voted against the Bill on the Second Reading and nothing has changed,' he said.Reuse content