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1994 - Mr Major’s Comments on European Policy

Below is the text of Mr Major’s comments on European policy, made during an interview given in London on Wednesday 7th December 1994.


QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked why the whip was withdrawn from some Conservative MPs].

PRIME MINISTER:

I think you have to realise precisely why that happened. I reached an agreement - not me as an individual but as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom - in 1992 on future finances of the Community. That agreement was endorsed by Cabinet, it got very wide support in the House of Commons, almost nobody criticised it across the floor or behind me. In 1994, we have to keep our word, we have to match the agreement with the legislation that enables that agreement to carry forward. Now suppose we have welched on that, suppose I had reached an agreement in 1992 and welched on it in 1994. How could I possibly have gone back to Europe and negotiated for 1996 in the intergovernmental conference? I simply couldn’t have done it.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if the decision had caused a split in the Conservative Party and if the MPs would have been more loyal if they still had the Conservative whip].

PRIME MINISTER:

I hear what you say about what they say. If the British Government gives its word, a British Government must keep its word and if a British Government is unable to keep its word then it cannot continue in office. That is not a very hard principle to grasp but it must be apparent to everybody that that was the position. We made it perfectly clear to our colleagues that that was the position and some of them chose not to support us. Clearly, that couldn’t be left where it was.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if this would be damaging to him].

PRIME MINISTER:

I acted in the only way one could. If Members of Parliament vote against the Government on an issue that they know to be an issue of confidence, an issue that if we had lost it could have created a General Election, then you have to indicate that that isn’t satisfactory behaviour. If I had taken no action, you would have been asking me a quite different question; you would have been saying: “Why are you so weak as to let people vote against the Government on a three-line whip and perhaps wreck an agreement you had reached internationally?”. You know very well that if governments reach an agreement internationally, British Governments must keep their word. There can be no doubt about that, not now, nor at any stage in the future.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if he was in a no-win situation].

PRIME MINISTER:

We had a second reading of the Bill in front of us. Let us suppose we had lost that second reading because people were not aware that this was an issue of confidence. We would now be facing a General Election. That would be the position we were in. I think my colleagues would have said to me: “Why didn’t you tell us that was the position?”, we did tell them that was the position. Most of them accepted that that was the position, they supported the Government and as a result the British Government has kept its word and in future when we negotiate people know that our word will be honoured. There is no doubt that that was the right thing to do.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if he agreed with some back-benchers that he had created this problem].

PRIME MINISTER:

That is patently absurd, isn’t it? I didn’t decide to vote against the Government. People knew precisely what this deal was, when I came back from Edinburgh they endorsed this deal, nobody complained about it then. The people who voted against us the other night, they haven’t complained in the interim. They knew very well what this deal was in 1992, they supported it in 1992. You cannot conduct government if you come back with an international agreement and your own party do not support that agreement. It was necessary to make that clear and when some chose not to support the Government it was inevitable that action was taken.