The European Crisis: Tories divided on Maastricht Mark II treaty: Commons test

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LEGISLATION on the Maastricht treaty would not be brought back to the House of Commons in its existing form, Sir Marcus Fox, chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, said yesterday.

That view, shared by some senior ministers ahead of next month's special EC summit, reflects increasing backbench concern about the treaty.

The first big test of Tory worries about the treaty, and the European exchange rate mechanism (ERM), will come in the two-day Commons debate on Europe that starts this afternoon.

But when Sir Marcus was asked on BBC radio's Today programme yesterday whether he would live to see the current legislation go through the Commons, he said: 'I shall live long enough, maybe, to see some form of treaty, but not Maastricht in its present form.'

That view was not shared by Sir Giles Shaw, another officer of the 1922 executive, who told the Independent: 'I am jolly certain that if there were any attempt to change Maastricht significantly, it would unravel. In that case, maybe Marcus would be right.'

He stressed, however: 'Maastricht in its present form is a treaty which provided a significantly improved position for the United Kingdom, with the opt-out on economic and monetary union and the single currency . . . given the overwhelming support of the House.'

Nevertheless, Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, spoke earlier this week of the need for changes in the Maastricht 'set- up' to accommodate Danish hostility. But when it was pointed out that Mr Hurd had suffered a setback when he had raised such questions in New York earlier this week, Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, told BBC radio's World at One yesterday that Chancellor Kohl had 'made it asbolutely clear' that issues have been raised that 'have to be addressed'.

Asked how the Prime Minister could anticipate the results of the 16 October summit when he opened today's Commons debate, Mr Heseltine said: 'It is perfectly possible to answer very clearly, that you intend to preserve the exchange rate mechanism when you have found ways of addressing the problems, and . . . to say that you intend to proceed with the ratification of the Maastricht treaty when the issues that have been raised have been clarified.'

But Sir John Hannam, a mainstream officer of the 1922 committee, said he shared the general view that the EC programme for 'inexorable union' had been rejected. 'I think Maastricht would have to be rejigged quite a bit to be acceptable. If a large number of Conservative MPs are unhappy with it, whatever Labour says, I don't think we can go ahead with it in its present form. It would have to be a Maastricht Mark II treaty, and I have got a feeling that other EC countries will want to jump into the same boat.'