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"Charming" Chris Heaton-Harris Appointed As New Chief Whip To Tame Rebels

Chris Heaton-Harris (left) who has been appointed as the new Chief Whip and Christopher Pincher, leave 10 Downing Street, London, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson reshuffles his Cabinet. Tuesday February 8, 2022. Alamy.

3 min read

Rebellious Tories will be brought into line by "charming" new chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris, according to his allies.

The former Europe minister who helped lead the government's work on the Northern Ireland Protocol replaced Mark Spencer, who led the whips since Boris Johnson was elected leader of the party in July 2019. Spencer moves to become Leader of the Commons.

Heaton-Harris, 54, is now a key player in the No 10 reset to try and bring unhappy MPs back on side after a tumultous few months.

Johnson has faced letters of no confidence handed into the 1922 committee of Tory MPs and public calls to resign after a string of scandals, including attempts to change Parliamentary standards that would have done away with the suspension of ex-MP Owen Paterson, backbench rebellions over lockdown, and revelations of gatherings in Downing Street investigated by the Met police.

As a Brexit supporter and one-time chair of the European Research Group of MPs, as well as someone with "people skills" who knows MPs across the Commons, allies believe he is exactly the right person to bring a fractured party together. 

One Tory insider said: "He's liked by everyone in the whips team already, and the parliamentary party which is vital in your role as the chief.

"Right now you need someone who can bring the party together and repair the damage done to the new intake. They need to calm the tactics that have grown with the shadow whipping operation," the insider said, referencing the allegedly robust tactics used by the group of MPs that have been trying to shore up support for Johnson in the past few weeks. 

"Listen to the 2019-ers, treat them as a worthy entity. The party is changing and we need to accept that and help them grow with us not against us."

Former Cabinet Secretary Andrea Leadsom MP, whose South Northamptonshire constituency borders Heaton-Harris' Daventry seat, told PoliticsHome: "Chris is a superb choice. He is a highly experienced political operator who is well liked and respected across the House."

Peter Bone MP is also a constituency neighbour of Heaton-Harris, and said: "It's an excellent choice and one that will be welcomed by all the different tribes in the party. He gets on with everyone. 

"I liked Mark Spencer enormously and he's been a good chief whip. If you're going to have a reset though, you have got to change things. Chris is charming, very fair and listens and he's determined. He will be able to persuade people to support the Prime Minister.

"He would have always ended up as chief whip ...he's got the experience...and one of his main attributes are his people skills."

Tory backbencher Andrew Bridgen said Heaton-Harris was one of the people who inspired him to go into politics, and the pair were both elected at the general election in 2010. 

He said he'd been given the gig in "tough circumstances" but said his chairmanship of the ERG could be in his favour.

Heaton-Harris has experience as a whip when he was an MEP for the European Parliament representing the East Midlands for a decade between 1999 and 2009. He was chief whip of the Conservative group between 2001 to March 2004.

He was then elected as an MP in 2010 and became chair of the Eurosceptic European Research Group between 2010 to 2016. He then served as a Brexit minister, transport minister and latterly Minister for Europe. 

He is also a keen footballer and qualified referee, officiating at matches for over 30 years. 

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