Major facing crucial vote
From Europe Editor DAVID WALLEN in London
PRIME Minister John Major faces a knife-edge vote in the Commons today, with the new threat of Ulster Unionists angry over the peace framework siding with Tory Euro-rebels against him.
Pro-Europe MPs in the Conservative Party yesterday warned Mr Major not to grant any more concessions to the nine whipless Tory MPs.
Uncertainty over the way they will vote in a Labour debate on government policy on Europe makes calculations on how close defeat will be almost impossible to work out.
Only when the result is through will Mr Major know whether he has survived another threat to his authority or have to return to the Commons tomorrow to face a critical confidence motion.
If he loses the first it will be a severe blow to his leadership. If he loses the second, it could topple his Government.
The Tory rebels met yesterday to consider their tactics. They want Britain to keep its pledge to maintain tight border controls against immigration within the European Union, and a Commons vote on any moves towards monetary union.
The Euro-enthusiasts believe Mr Major has already gone too far to appease the Euro-sceptics. They fear he may make further concessions in his speech during the debate to ensure that the Euro-rebels do not cause more problems.
The Prime Minister has praised the rebels' contribution as 'lively and thought provoking' in a move which right-wingers say is evidence that Mr Major is tilting towards their camp.
But pro-Europe former health minister Edwina Currie warned Mr Major that no party ever won a general election by campaigning on a Euro-sceptic platform and it was time to remind the country that its relationship with the EU had served it well.
Among the Euro-sceptics Michael Spicer MP warned that even if Mr Major uses the veto liberally at next year's Inter-Governmental Conference on the future of the EU, it would not be enough to stop a drift towards one big federal state.
'The process towards a Federal European Union now has a momentum of its own which the use of the veto on new initiatives will not of itself halt,' he said.
'The EU does not need new Inter-Governmental Conferences or fresh treaties to expand its jurisdiction.' The nine Ulster Unionists who have threatened to topple the Government are not due to make a decision until shortly before the vote.
The Unionists have claimed that they are not worried which party is in power at Westminster.
Labour has been wooing the Unionists to try to make them vote against the Government, stressing the peace process would continue with a Labour government, but with consideration being given to Unionist interests.
Mr Major will not be at next week's United Nations Social Summit in Denmark, to be attended by 130 government and state leaders, a British Embassy spokesman said.
Britain will be represented instead by Minister of Overseas Development Linda Chalker, who will attend on March 10 and 11.