Margaret Beckett, the party's deputy leader, appeared to go even further, saying it had to be clear whether the Danish position would be resolved, and 'until that was clear and settled it would not be right for the House of Commons to waste its time, possibly, debating the Maastricht Bill'.
Labour spokesmen rapidly rowed back from the implication in her BBC Radio World at One interview that that meant no return of the Bill until the Danes had settled their position in a second referendum next year.
George Robertson, the party's European affairs spokesman, said agreement on changes to Maastricht at the Edinburgh summit in December would mean 'the parameters were reasonably settled'. He argued that things the Danes wanted on defence and citizenship 'they cannot get without the treaty being unpicked'.
Labour seized on a television statement by Tristan Garel-Jones, the Foreign Office minister, that he was 'pretty confident that by the Edinburgh council we will be able to have a position that might be acceptable to the Danes' as evidence that the Danish position was still not clear.
Labour's determination to vote against the Government next week was attacked as 'downright deceit' by Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader.
'If it is a substantive motion and it goes down with Labour Party support, then that's the end of the Maastricht process.' Labour could not pretend 'that this is entirely a procedural motion and by voting against it we don't destroy Maastricht'.
As Labour argued the vote had become one of confidence in the Government, Mr Ashdown left open a Liberal Democrat vote against if John Major insisted on turning the vote into a confidence issue. 'If the vote is on Maastricht we vote for. If it's on the Government, we vote against.'
Labour's shift has alarmed its pro-European wing, which fears the party is slipping towards opposing the Bill itself, destroying its European credentials. MPs who supported Maastricht are now contemplating voting against, if it is certain that would bring the Government down.
Neil Kinnock, the former party leader, said that next week 'what we are seeing is not a vote on the Maastricht Bill, but a redundant vote that is simply there to try to sustain the diminished credibility of the Prime Minister. I don't believe in supporting the Prime Minister. If he wants reassurance as to who is going to vote for him, let him go to the country.'
Norman Fowler, the Conservative Party chairman, is planning a weekend assault by Cabinet ministers, accusing the Labour leader John Smith of 'hypocrisy' considering his pro-European record, in voting against the Bill returning.Reuse content