The Edinburgh Summit: Rebels vow to fight treaty to the end

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LABOUR and Tory rebels yesterday promised 'trench warfare' over the bill to ratify the Maastricht treaty, but Labour leaders left open the option of abstaining on the Third Reading, which could ensure its passage.

John Smith will reinforce his party's rejection of the Edinburgh summit today, when John Major makes a statement to the Commons. The Labour leader will attack the Prime Minister over the failure to accept the Social Chapter as part of the Maastricht treaty, and to do more to reduce unemployment across Europe.

Labour leaders poured cold water on Cabinet claims that the Edinburgh settlement was a personal triumph for Mr Major. Jack Cunningham, the Labour spokesman on foreign affairs, said: 'It is hardly a triumph. Most of the Community members will be breathing a sigh of relief that the British presidency is over.'

But behind the criticism, the Labour leadership remains anxious to preserve its pro-European credentials and is expected by Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain on the third reading, after a tough battle over the bill in the committee stage, to be resumed in the New Year.

'They will split three ways - the Labour leadership will abstain; there will be some voting for it; and some will vote against it,' said one Liberal Democrat leader.

If Labour abstains, the Government will be able to defeat its own rebels with a massive majority. But some Shadow Cabinet ministers will put Mr Smith under intense pressure to vote against the Government.

The Government scraped through with a majority of only three last month, because Labour and the Tory rebels combined to vote against the Government at the end of a paving debate for the committee stage of the bill. But Mr Smith's colleagues believe there is little chance of that happening again.

Those close to Mr Smith are sceptical about Tory rebellions, and expect the waverers on the Tory benches to have been bought off with the presentation of Edinburgh as a 'triumph' for Mr Major. However, the die-hard rebels remained determined to press ahead. James Cran, Tory MP for Beverley and unofficial whip for the Tory rebels, said on BBC radio: 'Nothing at all has changed. This is a constitutional issue. This is an issue which affects the way the UK is going to be governed in the next 40 to 50 years.

'There are still 400 amendments or thereabouts to discuss. Everyone around the table, as it were, at the House of Commons is going to make sure that all of those amendments are discussed.

'If one of those amendments succeeds, then of course the treaty can't go ahead in any of the countries.'

The Tory rebels will be demanding a referendum, but without Labour support, they stand no chance of winning a Commons majority. Mr Smith's supporters confirmed that the Labour leadership remained opposed to a referendum on the treaty.

But if the rebels employ guerrilla tactics, such as a filibuster, or spurious divisions, to delay progress, the Government is hoping Labour will support a guillotine. However, opponents of the bill in the Lords, led by Baroness Thatcher and Lord Tebbit, are preparing for a further battle, once it passes through the Commons.