They have gone down in history as the Maastricht Rebels - the band of patriotic Conservative MPs who, in 1993, putting their country and the concerns of their constituents before their party and their own careers, voted against the government of Prime Minister John Major on the implementation of the Maastricht Treaty (Treaty on European Union). Although the Treaty was eventually incorporated into British law, passing even greater powers of national self-government to the EU and continuing the relentless drive towards a United States of Europe, having stuck their heads above the parapet and set an example that gave strength and encouragement to Eurosceptics across the land, the rebels continued their guerrilla war against further European integration. There were 26 Conservative MPs who voted against their own governing party in the House of Commons and a further 19 who withdrew their support from the government by abstaining in the vote. A year later, because of their opposition to the EC Finance Bill, eight of them had the Conservative whip withdrawn and were expelled from the parliamentary party.
During the next few years, the torch the rebels lit by their actions turned into a conflagration, illuminating the true nature of the European project for all to see, demonstrating that opposition to it was a legitimate and honourable position (in spite of the insults frequently hurled at those who stood up for the United Kingdom’s independence) and leading, after many other bitter battles, to last year’s referendum result. (Although, like a crazed, over-the-hill actor who has to be restrained from coming on stage, the shrill, strident voice of John Major - now Sir John Major - can still occasionally be heard in the background, shouting his despair at the voters’ verdict and gleefully warning of disasters ahead.)
One of those rebels, and a tireless campaigner whose vocal opposition to our country’s absorption into a European superstate dated back to the 1970s, was Sir Teddy Taylor, who sadly passed away at the age of 80 on 20th September. A fiery Scotsman who first entered Parliament as MP for Glasgow Cathcart in 1964, Sir Teddy later resigned as a Scottish Office minister over Prime Minister Edward Heath’s decision to join what was then the Common Market.
In the political climate that prevailed for many years, his unwavering Euroscepticism meant he was excluded from senior ministerial positions in the party, but as Conservative MP for Southend East, a constituency he served with dedication and devotion from 1979 until he finally stepped down in 2005, he was a much-admired and popular figure in the town who championed local issues every bit as passionately as he denounced our overlords in Brussels. He also garnered a lot of affection from people, whatever their political complexion, when he revealed that one of his great loves was…the reggae music of Bob Marley!
Sir Teddy Taylor was one of five MPs who we awarded, at the time of the Maastricht furore, This England’s Silver Cross of St. George. The others - on behalf of all their defiant colleagues in the House were: Bill Cash (then MP for Stafford, now Sir Bill Cash and MP for Stone), Nicholas Budgen (1937-1988, at the time the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West), and two staunchly anti-EU Labour MPs: Peter Shore (1924-2001, MP for Bethnal Green and Stepney) and Austin Mitchell (MP for Great Grimsby).
Sir Teddy is survived by his wife, Sheila, and their two sons and one daughter. My thoughts are with them.
Tributes poured in for Sir Teddy, with Sir Bill Cash describing him as being “as strong as a lion on Europe” and “absolutely reliable on the issue of British sovereignty”. It is comforting to know that Sir Teddy Taylor lived long enough to see his opinion about the European Union vindicated and supported by the majority of the UK population. He is certainly a figure I would have approached to hear his views about our proposal for a new Festival of Britain to coincide with our country leaving the EU. Further details about our campaign can be found by clicking here.
Photograph credit: Euro Realist