16:23 GMT20 January 2021
Listen Live
    Get short URL
    0 0 0

    The European Union issue brought down David Cameron and Theresa May and Boris Johnson has only just extricated himself from the Brexit mire after negotiating a trade deal on 24 December.

    Documents just released by the National Archives give an insight into how the then Prime Minister John Major fought off a challenge from John Redwood in the summer of 1995.

    Major was forced to call a leadership election after his policies were consistently undermined by the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party.

    ​In 1990 Major had replaced Margaret Thatcher as the party’s leader and prime minister and two years later he defeated Labour, under Neil Kinnock, in a general election.

    But by the summer of 1993 Major - like David Cameron and Theresa May a quarter of a century later - was engaged in a bitter feud with the Eurosceptics, who bitterly opposed his decision to sign the Maastricht Treaty, which spurred further EU integration.

    ​In July 1993 Major was inadvertently recorded describing three members of his own cabinet as "bastards" for their efforts to undermine him.

    Two years later the Secretary of States for Wales, John Redwood, a long-time Eurosceptic MP, challenged Major.

    ​In the papers which have been released by the National Archives, Major’s advisers dissect the challenger’s policies under the heading “Redwood proposals” and say he is “just surfing on PM’s ideas.”

    Redwood was dubbed The Vulcan because he bore a passing resemblance to Spock from Star Trek and, like him, was seen as being incapable of showing emotions or empathy.

    In his leadership challenge Redwood had said: “It is ‘time to deliver’ on low taxation.”

    Major’s advisers, in an internal note, responded: “Agreed objective. Did he not sign up last week to cabinet public spending totals? Wants: tax less + spending more = vulcanomics.”

    They then go on to dissect his achievements, or lack of them, in Wales.

    Redwood had said he wanted to cut government spending and waste but Major’s team pointed out he had only cut 79 civil service jobs in Wales since 1993.

    Redwood also said he wanted less quangos (quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations) but Major’s team wrote sarcastically: “Which quangos? 64 quangos in Wales. What did he do?”

    ​The Major team then discuss how to challenge Redwood’s claim that he wants a change in government policy.

    They wrote: “How could he stay in cabinet so long? His policies not so very different. So what’s his beef?”

    When Redwood said he had not ruled out a general election if he became leader of the party, Major’s team wrote: “Playing into hands of Tony Blair.”

    Britain's former Prime Minister John Major arrives to attend a service of thanksgiving for the life and work of Peter Carrington at Westminster Abbey in London, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019
    © AP Photo / Kirsty Wigglesworth
    Britain's former Prime Minister John Major arrives to attend a service of thanksgiving for the life and work of Peter Carrington at Westminster Abbey in London, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019

    Blair had been elected leader of the Labour Party in 1994 and was to lead them to a landslide General Election victory in 1997.

    When the MPs got to choose on 4 July 1995 they opted for Major - who won by 218 votes to 89.

    Redwood was sacked from the Cabinet and returned to the backbenches. Now 69, he is still a Tory MP and was at the forefront of the campaign for a hard Brexit.

    The National Archives files also reveal the messages of congratulations Major received from world leaders after his position as prime minister was confirmed.

    Among those who sent messages of support were Turkey’s Prime Minister Tansu Çiller, Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo and Greek leader Konstantinos Mitsotakis.

    ​A Foreign Office official, C. R. V. Stagg, wrote to Major’s private secretary suggesting the Prime Minister should make a reference to the constitional reform measures Mrs Çiller had forced through the Turkish parliament.

    Stagg wrote: "Passage of the reform is quite an achievement for Mrs Çiller at the end of some determined arm-twisting in the Turkish parliament."
    He added: "But it is almost certainly not the only step which the Turks will need to take to take to convince enough MEPs to vote for customs union (between the EU and Turkey). We need to encourage the Turks to sustain the momentum."

    There were also letters of congratulations from Philippe Séguin, the neo-Gaullist President of France’s National Assembly, the Secretary General of the Arab League and the President of Azerbaijan, Heidar Aliyev.

    Aliyev, who was Azerbaijan’s President between 1993 and 2003, was succeeded by his son Ilham, who led them to victory over Armenia in the recent Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

    Major, who was knighted in 2005, but in November this year he said Britain was "no longer a great power" and would "never be so again."

    Conservative Party, prime minister, UK, Sir John Major
    Community standardsDiscussion