Rebel Tory MPs pay price of disloyalty
EIGHT Conservative MPs were in effect expelled from their own party yesterday as a penalty for defying Prime Minister John Major and not voting in favour of the Government in the confidence vote on Europe.
The Government survived, but the row has provoked new levels of bitterness within Conservative ranks. A Labour attempt to block the bill granting enhanced payments to the European Union was defeated by 27 votes.
Eight Tory MPs abstained and were immediately sent a letter by the Chief Whip Richard Ryder telling them they would have the 'whip withdrawn' - that is, be removed from the parliamentary party.
The move is unprecedented in its scale this century and certainly marks a new low in Mr Major's leadership, coming as it did on the fourth anniversary of the downfall of Lady Thatcher.
Mr Major had sworn to stand down and force a general election if he did not get his way, but the threat was a high price to pay because the Government now finds itself in unknown territory, with its majority technically wiped out.
His problems will deepen further next month if, as expected, the Tories lose a by-election in Dudley, West Midlands.
How the dissident MPs will behave from now on will be crucial as Mr Major goes into the budget session. Most will undoubtedly want to get back into the party and behave themselves, others may continue their defiance. If the rebellion continues until the next election they will not be allowed to stand again as Conservative MPs.
One of the rebels, Teresa Gorman, accused Mr Major of seeing his obligation to Europe as being greater than that to the British people. She said she would continue to support Mr Major on domestic policies but added 'what is the point in having a domestic parliament if in it the British people can be taxed by Europe without their consent'.
There are other potentially close votes in the pipeline, including extending the tax on domestic fuel where Labour intends to force a vote next week which could attract the support of the Tory rebels.
But dominating the horizon is the run up to the European Inter-Governmental Conference in 1996, before which Tory Euro-sceptics want a firm 'no' to any suggestion of a single European currency.
Party tacticians cannot see any way at present of how to bring MPs into line.