Prime Minister John Major survived a vote of confidence Friday and railroaded a reluctant House of Commons into approving a treaty of European union on his terms.
For Major, the gamble ended a 19-month struggle to ratify the treaty, already endorsed by the 11 other European Community nations."We've drawn a line in the sand," a smiling Major said after a tense 6-hour Commons debate. "Everyone is back in the fold. They know now that this is behind us."
But the crisis left Major looking battered and humiliated, while dissidents in his Conservative Party resented being forced to choose between swallowing the treaty they hate or bringing down the government and facing an immediate election.
The 339-299 confidence vote meant the EC can implement its long-delayed Maastricht treaty on union after private legal challenges in Britain and Germany have been resolved. That could be in the early fall.
Defeat would have meant calling a national election that the Conservatives, running low in opinion polls, were likely to lose. It would also have threatened the entire treaty, which needs unanimous endorsement from EC nations.
However, chronic divisions in British politics about ceding sovereignty to Europe remained. The issue precipitated the 1990 downfall of Margaret Thatcher, a strong opponent of the treaty, and still haunts Major, who had pledged to put Britain "at the heart of Europe."
Major called the confidence vote - the last resort - after losing a key parliamentary vote to endorse the treaty on Thursday.
Conservative rebels, hoping to kill the treaty, had backed the Labor Party's attempt to force the government to sign a charter of workers' rights as part of the treaty. Major says the "social chapter" provisions such as paid paternity leave and a maximum 48-hour work week are too costly for industry.
But threatening an election changed some minds.
Teresa Gorman, one of the rebels, glumly sided with Major. Most of the 332 Conservative colleagues in the 651-member Commons "will not put themselves in for a general election because under this prime minister we will lose," she added.
Since his come-from-behind national election victory in April 1992, Major saw his economic policy collapse in September when Britain was forced out of the European monetary system. Inflation is low but unemployment is at 10.4 percent.