Mon, 27 May 2024

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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Senior Tory Accuses Boris Johnson Critic Of “Very Serious Mistake” Over Missing Vote

A minister has defended the decision to strip the party whip from Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood (Alamy)

4 min read

A senior minister has defended Boris Johnson’s decision to strip the Conservative whip from one of his biggest critics after they were stuck abroad and unable to take part in a Commons vote.

Defence select committee chair Tobias Ellwood had the whip removed on Tuesday as punishment for missing a vote on a confidence motion in the government on Monday night. Ellwood says he was unable to return from a working trip to Moldova where he was discussing the situation in Ukraine.

But Simon Clarke, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said Ellwood made a "very serious mistake” in failing to back the government in the motion.

A number of other Tory MPs abstained on the vote, but Ellwood, a long-term critic of the Prime Minister, and one of the first Tories to call for him to resign over the so-called “partygate” affair, appears to have been singled out for punishment.

A party source said the other Conservatives who didn’t cast a vote were appropriately paired with other MPs, giving them a valid excuse not to walk through the division lobbies.

Clarke confirmed Ellwood’s trip to Eastern Europe was not seen as sufficient reason to be absent from the Commons for the confidence motion.

"He was in Moldova, rather than Ukraine. He was not on government work, he is a backbench MP,” he told Sky News

Clarke suggested Ellwood knew the consequences of missing the vote. 

"There are clear arrangements in place which all MPs understand, which govern the conditions for absence from votes, most especially critical votes like a motion of confidence in the government, which has the potential to trigger a general election,” he explained. 

Yesterday a Tory source said: "Other Conservative MPs cancelled foreign trips, left poorly relatives, and one MP's mother died on the morning of the vote, and still attended and voted.”

But Ellwood said he did not ignore the Whip's office and kept the party informed of his movements. He said he deeply regretted his suspension and hoped it would only be temporary.

"There are a few options to get back, but there were problems with travel in the UK," he said. "I am very sorry I didn't make it back."

Speaking from Odesa, Ukraine, he told Sky News he did not want to speculate about the reasons why he specifically lost the whip. 

"I'd be then fuelling the blue-on-blue, which I'm actually trying to avoid," Ellwood continued. 

"Let's focus on how we can move forward and make sure that we conclude this leadership campaign to the highest professional standard that I think the British people want to see.”

Losing the whip also means Ellwood can no longer take part in the Tory leadership contest, with the crucial final ballot of MP taking place this afternoon.

He is a vocal backer of Penny Mordaunt, but she will not be able to rely on his vote as the trade minister tries to hold off Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and make it into the final two contenders with former Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Ellwood declined to speculate on whether he would not have lost the Tory party whip if he had been a Truss backer, rather than supporting Mordaunt, after speculation Johnson's move was to try and benefit the Truss campaign.

But Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries dismissed this idea. "This is wholly untrue and frankly utterly ridiculous," she wrote on Twitter. 

"Every single MP of every party is under no illusion regarding the price to be paid in not voting during a Government confidence motion.

“It's a very clearly defined and historic red line. Tobias could have voted like everyone else."

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