Tory Brexit rebels warned they will lose the whip if they vote against government

Whips’ strategy could weaken Johnson’s grip on parliament

Conservative MPs have been told to vote with the government and preserve the chance of a deal, or vote with Corbyn and destroy any chance of a deal. Photograph: Tom Jamieson/The New York Times

Conservative MPs have been told to vote with the government and preserve the chance of a deal, or vote with Corbyn and destroy any chance of a deal. Photograph: Tom Jamieson/The New York Times

 

Boris Johnson has dug in for trench warfare over Brexit as Tory rebels were put on notice they face losing the whip and being barred from standing for the party if they vote against the government.

The prime minister decided to get tough with rebels as he faced a torrid week which will be dominated by Commons clashes over his EU withdrawal stance.

With opponents of a no-deal Brexit set to try to seize control of the parliamentary agenda on Tuesday, senior Tories such as heavyweight grandees Philip Hammond and David Gauke were warned to back the government.

A senior source from the Tory whips’ office said: “The whips are telling Conservative MPs a very simple message – if they fail to vote with the Government [tomorrow] they will be destroying the government’s negotiating position and handing control of Parliament to Jeremy Corbyn.

“Any Conservative MP who does this will have the whip withdrawn and will not stand as Conservative candidates in an election.”

Referring to the date of next month’s EU summit, the source added: “There is a chance of a deal on October 17th only because Brussels realises the prime minister is totally committed to leaving on October 31st.

“All MPs face a simple choice [on Tuesday]: to vote with the government and preserve the chance of a deal or vote with Corbyn and destroy any chance of a deal.”

General election

With a Tory/DUP Commons majority of just one, withdrawing the whip from rebel MPs would further weaken Mr Johnson’s grip on parliament and make an early general election more likely.

The hard-line stance was agreed at a Chequers strategy summit the PM held with senior aides and Tory whips.

A meeting planned for today between Mr Johnson and Tory rebels led by ex-justice minister Mr Gauke was abruptly cancelled by Downing Street.

Former chancellor Mr Hammond then declined the offer of one-on-one discussions with the prime minister in the wake of the cancellation of the Gauke talks.

Mr Corbyn is holding a special meeting of the shadow cabinet in Salford today to finalise tactics for opposing a no-deal Brexit.

The Labour leader will say: “We are working with other parties to do everything necessary to pull our country back from the brink.”

Former prime minister Tony Blair is using a speech in London to urge Labour not to support any push by Downing Street for an early general election, but demand a Brexit referendum instead.

Mr Blair will say: “Should the Government seek an election, it should be refused in favour of a referendum.

“It is counter-intuitive for opposition parties to refuse an election.

“But in this exceptional case, it is vital they do so as a matter of principle, until Brexit is resolved.”

Legislation

Political tensions were also heightened after Cabinet member and close ally of the prime minister Michael Gove repeatedly refused to say if the government would abide by legislation blocking a no-deal Brexit if it is forced through.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster told the BBC: “Let’s see what the legislation says.

“You’re asking me about a pig in a poke.

“And I will wait to see what legislation the opposition may try to bring forward.”

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer, who said he favoured legislation to prevent a no-deal scenario, branded Mr Gove’s stance “breathtaking”.

He said: “For ministers not to confirm that this government will accept and comply with legislation lawfully passed is breathtaking.

“No government is above the law.”

Asked if he planned to try to force through a Brexit extension beyond October 31st, Mr Gauke said: “I think the detail will become very apparent in the next few days.

“And the problem is that if we don’t act in this week, I think that it is likely that parliament will be excluded from this process.” – PA