Gorman 'insulted' by Chief Whip over referendum Bill

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Teresa Gorman yesterday said she was "insulted" by the Chief Whip, Alastair Goodlad, as the Government attempted to force her to drop a backbench European referendum Bill which threatened an embarrassing split in the Government.

Mrs Gorman told how Mr Goodlad last week called her into his office to warn her that she would be helping Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party, if she pressed ahead.

"I informed him it was never in my mind. It was a bit insulting to suggest that any member of the Commons would be dancing to someone else's tune. I am not."

The Government and Labour front benches yesterday ducked a potentially embarrassing split in both camps by avoiding any vote on her Bill. It went through "on the nod", because no tellers were put forward to oppose it.

A leading Euro-sceptic said: "This has avoided a split on our side and Labour clearly didn't want the embarrassment either".

Mrs Gorman accused the whips of putting pressure on her and the supporters of the Bill. "Never has so much been done by so many on so few. It is a bit of a landmark. I am up against almost a three-line whip."

The whips had gone round the week before warning MPs who might support Mrs Gorman's Bill that it would damage Tory election chances. By Monday it was realised that this tactic was beginning to backfire.

Some leading Euro-sceptics have been reluctant to support the Bill to avoid accusations of disunity. But on Monday, after hostile reports suggested he was not to be trusted by Euro-sceptics, John Redwood told allies he would back it. Bill Cash, another key Euro-sceptic, also announced he would vote for it.

At that stage the whips left it to other right-wing Tories to press their colleagues into line. David Shaw, MP for Dover, who has a wafer- thin majority, was among those urging unity by not supporting the Bill.

Mrs Gorman was impervious to threats. Along with seven colleagues, she lost the whip earlier in the Parliament over her rebellions on Europe. She was not intimidated now. Wearing a Thatcherite steely blue suit, and accompanied by Teddy Taylor, she held a press conference to insist she was doing it for her constituents in Billericay, Essex. "I could not face the people in the Con Club in the High Street in Billericay on Saturday if I ditched this Bill. They will think I had turned yellow," she said.

"They want someone to put their view across. All the analysts said Essex was the place [where the election was won in 1992] - strong working class Tories with a strong sense of country and patriotism.

"They will be queueing up to vote Conservative if we listen to them and take on board their concerns."