Rebels to concentrate forces on court action: The Maastricht Treaty: Conservative dissidents likely to vote with the Government in Commons vote on Social Chapter

ANTI-MAASTRICHT Conservative MPs are poised to support the Government in a fraught vote on the Social Chapter opt-out, it emerged yesterday. But ministers might face the rebels' planned court challenge to British ratification of the Maastricht treaty within weeks.

The right secured by MPs to vote on the chapter before ratification can take effect has posed the prospect of further future embarrassment for the Government if anti-treaty Tories were to combine with Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

However, that threat appeared to recede yesterday as a leading rebel said: 'I suspect we will all vote against the Social Chapter.'

While a senior Government source treated that prediction with caution, the impending legal challenge looked set to become the most pressing issue as it emerged that the case could speed through its High Court, Court of Appeal and House of Lords stages by the end of June or perhaps even earlier - long before the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, the ratification measure, has ground to the end of its parliamentary passage.

The court action stems from the Government's abject and enforced acceptance of a Labour amendment deleting John Major's prized Social Chapter opt-out from the legislation. An opinion by Leolin Price QC, who heads the rebels' legal team, says failure to include the social protocol, which deals with the opt-out, renders the entire process of parliamentary approval of ratification ineffective.

The Government's argument is that it is only 'desirable', not essential, that the protocol is made part of British law.

Mr Price is to decide soon whether to launch a judicial review immediately, or whether to seek a declaration of the true legal position after the Bill receives Royal Assent.

He said yesterday: 'I hope to establish in research still to be done that we don't have to wait.'

In that event, the case could be launched as early as this month and reach a ruling by the Law Lords within weeks. It is likely to cost the rebels between pounds 100,000 and pounds 200,000, depending on the upshot.

Success would herald unthinkable consequences for the Government, and even the possibility that John Major would feel he had little option but to resign.

The latest developments coincide with a warning by Government business managers yesterday that MPs could be prevented from rising for the summer recess until deliberations by peers had ended.

That is calculated to limit resort to disruptive tactics by Lord Tebbit, Baroness Thatcher and their anti- Maastricht cohorts in the House of Lords. James Cran, the MP for Beverley and unofficial whip for the anti- treaty MPs, said yesterday that the call for a referendum would be the centrepiece of the discussions in the Lords. Mr Cran dismissed suggestions that a 'yes' vote in the Danish referendum would amount to a setback for the cause. EC leaders had 'trotted back' after Maastricht expecting the issue to be easily resolved in their parliaments; it had not been. From now on, 'the leaders of the European Community will move as though they are walking on egg- shells', he said.

In the meantime, he confirmed, cash to fund the legal action was in plentiful supply.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview