George Walden, the MP for Buckingham, became the first rebel to declare a volte-face over the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. In a press statement, he said he had hoped that the Maastricht treaty might expire after the 'no' vote in last year's Danish referendum. 'Now the French referendum has been won and the Danes seem increasingly likely to ratify, my preference for death at the hands of others seems no longer on offer. Logically, I must therefore rethink my position.' He added: 'Pragmatism, our super-patriots should remember, is a British virtue.'
An Independent analysis of rebels' voting patterns in the 23 Committee Stage divisions up to last Thursday showed Mr Walden voting for the Government once and declining to vote in the remaining 22. A hard-line rebel played down the defection, saying Mr Walden was 'all over the place. He is well-known to be against it'.
But while a further 44 rebels could continue, assuming Labour and Liberal Democrat support, to hamper progress over the Bill, the first signs of an impending campaign backing ratification of the treaty came yesterday from the British Chambers of Commerce.
In the wake of a meeting of its national council, Christopher Stewart-Smith, the BCC president, yesterday pledged the support of 240,000 businesses in a letter to the Prime Minister. 'We urge you to press ahead with the ratification process,' he said.
The Confederation of British Industry and other business representatives are also expected to express clear support for the Bill, now that embarrassment over the recent defeat on the EC Committee of the Regions has subsided.Reuse content