Ministers' pleas fell on deaf ears

The Government failed to enlist the support of the Ulster Unionists in the Scott debate despite three meetings with the party, two involving John Major.

Shortly before 6pm, Martin Smyth, the UUP's chief whip, met Alastair Goodlad, the Government chief whip, at Mr Smyth's request. Mr Goodlad asked why they were upset. Mr Smyth objected to the rumours of a deal between the Government and Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists.

At 6.30pm, David Trimble, the UUP leader, met his eight MPs to decide how to vote. Shortly after the meeting began, Mr Trimble was summoned to meet the Prime Minister, who insisted there had been no deal with the DUP.

When Mr Trimble reported back to his MPs, they decided informally to vote against the Government. At dinner Mr Trimble was again invited to Mr Major's office, this time with Michael Heseltine, Deputy Prime Minister, also present. At no point did Mr Trimble tell Mr Major how the UUP would vote.

Yesterday rumours abounded about the negotiations. Andrew Hunter, chairman of the Tory backbench Northern Ireland committee, said the UUP had offered its backing in return for agreeing that the Ulster elections be fought on 18 constituencies. However, that was denied by Mr Trimble.

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