BRITAIN'S refusal to make an unqualified commitment to the
European Community is fueling dismay among its continental partners
and propelling Prime Minister John Major toward a constitutional
Behind the crisis is the social chapter, a body of law within
last year's Maastricht Treaty on EC unity that creates a framework
for workers' rights and is supported by the EC's other 11 members.
Britain signed the treaty but opted out of the chapter.
Senior figures in EC countries have been shocked by the British
In a Berlin speech, Martin Bangemann, the EC's industry
commissioner, said countries hostile to a united Europe "should
consider whether they really want to belong to this Community."
An informal coalition of opposition British Labour and Liberal
Democrat members of Parliament, along with about 30 rebel
Conservatives, is threatening to force Mr. Major to accept the
social chapter as part of a bill ratifying the treaty.
Major, sensing the likelihood of a parliamentary defeat, on Feb.
13 let it be known through officials that he may be prepared to
break precedent by asking Queen Elizabeth to ratify the treaty
without the social chapter by royal prerogative, regardless of any
House of Commons vote.
A day later, the same officials said the government had no
intention of bypassing Parliament. And Major ordered Douglas Hurd,
the foreign secretary, to make a statement to Parliament clarifying
the official intention.
George Robertson, Labour Party spokesman on foreign affairs,
says such a move would create an "uproar" in the House of Commons.
The Commons is currently engaged in line-by-line scrutiny of the
Maastricht bill. The Labour Party is proposing an amendment that
would make the social chapter a part of the bill.
Major insists that negotiating an opt-out from the social
chapter was an important achievement. In parliamentary debates on
Maastricht he has said British industry could not subscribe to the
chapter's provisions and remain competitive in European trade.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats are in favor of enshrining
workers' rights. The Conservative rebels who are threatening to
vote for the social chapter say they dislike its provisions, but
hate the body of the Maastricht Treaty much more.
Last week Major and Mr. Hurd appeared to give the rebels an
opening when they said that a government defeat over the social
chapter would kill the treaty. …