Major Threatens to Call Vote Over EU Funding Rebellion

From Associated Press

Rebel legislators have driven John Major and his Cabinet into a "suicide pact," a threat to call a national election if he loses a vote next week on paying more for the European Union.

"This is about real democracy, and people fought and died for that," said Bill Cash, ringleader of the dozen or so dissidents who are pushing their embattled prime minister to the brink for the second time in less than two years.

Major agreed in 1992 to raise Britain's share of the EU budget, starting with an increase of $120 million, on top of next year's contribution of $3.75 billion. By 1999, Britain would contribute $390 million more than had originally been promised.

On paper, the anti-EU group appears to have sufficient support to defeat Major, who commands a slender 14-seat majority in the 651-member House of Commons.

However, many observers predict that Major will scrape through on a combination of votes from nine Northern Ireland legislators and cold feet by some dissidents at the prospect of the unpopular Conservatives losing power in an election.

Like many of the hard-core rebels, Cash, 54, is on the right of the party, articulate, diligent, and loathes the closer integration of the European Union.

To Major, the persistent "Euro-skeptics" are an awkward squad putting him through a replay of the struggle over the Maastricht Treaty on closer European union, which Parliament ratified in mid-1993 only when the prime minister threatened to resign.

Major has made implementation of the deal a sign of confidence in his government.

The entire 22-member Cabinet will resign and call a national election if the bill is voted down, Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke said.

Some Euro-skeptics say Major and Clarke are bluffing, and argue that if Major loses on Monday, he will be challenged for the party leadership and there won't be a national election.

The confrontation comes at a bad time for Major, whose party is far behind the opposition Labor Party in opinion polls.

Another rebellion against Major is rumbling over a second increase in an unpopular tax on home heating fuels.

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