Ignore the hyperbole. This is not Maastricht v2.0. It?s completely different. I was there!
says Michael Fabricant MP, the Conservative MP for Lichfield and former Senior Government Whip.
Whenever any political historian needs to reference internecine political trench warfare, they think of the 12 months of debate and bloodshed in the House of Commons which were required between 1992 and 1993 to pass the European Communities Amendment Act which ratified the Maastricht Treaty into British Law.
Yet comparisons made by some left leaning commentators in red-top newspapers and on radio and tv between that internal debate within the Conservative Party and the present discussions surrounding the EU Referendum are wrong, out of context and more like wishful thinking.
When we know the result of the EU Referendum after 23 June 2016, it will not be the Conservative Party who have come to a view on Britain?s membership of the European Union, but the collective wisdom of the British people.
Being a newly-elected MP during the 1992-1997 Parliament has shaped my view about politics and my Party more profoundly than any other experience during my time in Westminster. After a short honeymoon, we were immediately confronted with: Black Wednesday, which resulted in a humiliating withdrawal from the Exchange Rate Mechanism; and a growing budget deficit, which damaged our well-founded reputation as competent custodians of the British economy.
Nigel Lawson?s 1993 Budget, although it would later come to be regarded as a necessary evil to restore the long term fortunes of the British economy, did much to harm our short term credibility in the country, seeing the Party renege on pre-election pledges to reduce taxes and not increase VAT. Indeed, from May 1993, the Conservative Party?s average poll rating dropped to below 30 per cent, where it would doggedly remain for the subsequent four years.
As public confidence in the Major Government waned, and as the Maastricht Treaty had to be ratified by Parliament, a neurotic obsession with Europe spread across the Conservative Party like a viral contagion. Sigmund Freud would have had a field day analysing the compulsions of backbench Conservative MPs on his couch in Vienna. This time, the mother complex behind much of the internal loathing between MPs was the defenestrated Margaret Thatcher. For some, Maastricht was a vicarious battle to punish those who had not supported Margaret in her hours of need. It lead to political meltdown and an attempted regicide when John Major was forced to resign as Party Leader and stand for re-election. Those were indeed dark days for the Tory Party.
And so the British public came to the understandable view that the Party was a critical mass of recalcitrant old xenophobes and lunatics, salivating at the thought of a by-gone Britain. It was for these reasons, despite our longstanding differences on Europe, that I and other notable Eurosceptics supported Ken Clarke in the 1997 leadership election.
But the state of the Conservative Party today is hardly comparable. The ?rebels? ? of which I include myself – are not holding the Government to ransom in Parliament.
On 22 July 1993, when the Maastricht Bill failed to pass one of its final legislative hurdles, three Cabinet meetings were held in a single day in an attempt to carry the Government. The following day the Government held a vote of confidence, which it won by thirty-eight votes.
Not even the most mischievous commentator can credibly suggest we are back to that collective psychosis.
The Parliamentary Conservative Party now holds a rather more agnostic view about Europe, which is on the whole Eurosceptic, but not dogmatically so. And there are no personal scores to settle; no Thatcher to be avenged.
We must all explain our stance to our constituents, but we shall do so in a considered and conciliatory way. For the decision about our future place in Europe has been taken out the hands of politicians and placed firmly with the British people.
At Monday night?s 1922 Committee, the Prime Minister convened a group therapy session. He told us that throughout the debate on Britain?s place in Europe we should continue to treat each other with respect, and I believe that we will. He spoke of the Conservative ?team? and how he wished we had all witnessed Cabinet where dissenting Secretaries of State had all been listened to with nods of understanding. And, if we do, we not only have the potential to remove an age old lodestone from the neck of the Conservative Party, but to make the present Labour Party an utter irrelevance.
Sigmund Freud would say that the Referendum will induce the final catharsis needed after years of talking therapy to finally eradicate the Europe-syndrome once and for all. I hope he?s right.