The former Prime Minister saw a group of six backbench Tory MPs in her office in the House of Lords on Tuesday to give them the benefit of her advice. It was delivered in characteristically blunt terms, well known to the French, Germans and the Foreign Office.
Denouncing John Major's Maastricht deal as a 'politician's treaty in defiance of public opinion', she is reported to have said it was not the right time to pursue it. The decision to press ahead was a 'denial and betrayal of parliamentary democracy'.
She complained that the treaty extended qualified majority voting and was bound up with economic and monetary union.
Those who 'had audience', as some MPs described it, included Walter Sweeney, MP for Vale of Glamorgan; John Sykes, MP for Scarborough; Bernard Jenkin, MP for Colchester North; Alan Duncan, MP for Rutland and Melton; Hartley Booth, MP for Lady Thatcher's former seat of Finchley and one of her former advisers at No 10. The group was invited to see her by John Whittingdale, the MP for Colchester South who was her political adviser at Downing Street. But Mr Duncan, although a sceptic on Maastricht, and Mr Booth are said to have spoken in loyal terms for Mr Major and warned against interference from the Upper House in the Commons debate.
Lady Thatcher was also given dinner by her former torch-bearers, the No Turning Back Group, which includes several ministers. One of them said yesterday that when the vote was over, Mr Major would never recover his position. 'He has caused confusion and split the party - we won't forget it.'
Michael Spicer, who is leading next week's rebellion, insisted last night that Mr Major had made it clear during Question Time that it was not a vote of confidence. 'The phrase that the Prime Minister used very consciously was that the debate will be on 'the merits of the issue'. That is extremely important because it knocks on the head the idea that the vote against the treaty will be in any way a vote against the Prime Minister personally.
'That clears the decks for people to vote on its merits.'
James Cran, MP for Beverley, is acting as the unofficial whip for the rebels, who believe they have more than 40 who will vote against.