You might have thought that, after more than 30 years of campaigning to leave the EU, Eurosceptic MPs would have celebrated the historic victory of triggering Article 50 in various bars of the Commons. The Maastricht Treaty, undertaken to integrate Europe, was signed on February 7, 1992 – 25 years ago this week. But my father Bill Cash – the chief Maastricht rebel, who was once described as the “St John the Baptist of the Eurosceptic movement” by the BBC – tells me that the mood among Brexiteer MPs was far from triumphalist. Didn’t you at least go and have a glass of champagne with [fellow Catholic] Iain Duncan Smith, I asked? Apparently not.
The only celebration that my father organised was a Maastricht Rebel Lunch last November for those MPs who voted against the government during the rebellion. I was allowed to drop by for coffee and a glass of wine, although there was little sign of any celebratory excess.
Those present included veteran Eurosceptics, but alas many had died or were absent due to their new post-Westminster careers. Downside-educated Rupert Allason was the only Tory who refused to vote for the Maastricht Treaty when it was made into a motion of confidence, and was suspended from the party. He sent his regards to his fellow rebels, though he wouldn’t say where he was exactly. Famously, on the night of the final Maastricht vote, the whips couldn’t locate him anywhere – not in London, nor at his house in Bermuda, nor at his place in Devon. Perhaps it is for good reason that the only interest he lists in his Who’s Who entry is “sailing close to the wind”.
But the era of late-night drinking sessions to get through long debates has long passed. In the old days, the Brexit debate would doubtless have gone on until the early hours with many MPs sleeping on armchairs until the division bells rang.
What was more satisfying than any malt whisky vintage for Brexiteers was the near miraculous vision of the division lobbies being packed with MPs voting for a Eurosceptic cause – winning by nearly 500. “Normally there was just 20 or so of us keeping our parliamentary sovereign faith alive,” my father said the morning after. “It’s a different world now. In the old days, when we were fighting the Maastricht Treaty, we might have gone for a drink in the Smoking Room, but you aren’t even allowed to smoke there any more.”
The morning after the vote to trigger Article 50 I encountered former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Donald Trump’s rival for the Republican nomination, at a breakfast in a private member’s club. While the breakfast was private, I can say that what struck me immediately about Jeb – who converted from Episcopalianism to Catholicism in 1995 and is a Knight of Columbus (similar to the Knights of Malta in Europe) – was not just his striking height but also his political gravitas, helped by a well-cut navy suit and the sort of expensive black shoes that are favoured by Americans who shop in the Burlington Arcade. In addition to being known to carry around a good cigar, he also often carries a rosary.
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