Tory discipline in tatters as ministers are allowed to defy party whip and keep jobs

Posted On: 
13th March 2019

Tory discipline was in tatters on Wednesday night after ministers were allowed to defy the party whip and still keep their jobs.

David Mundell was one of four Cabinet ministers who abstained.
Credit: 
PA Images

Thirteen Conservative frontbenchers - including four Cabinet ministers - abstained on an amended government motion ruling out a no-deal Brexit in all circumstances - despite a three-line whip for them to oppose it.

Remarkably, it later emerged that they had been given permission to do so without having to worry about being sacked by Theresa May.

Brexit to be delayed as Theresa May gives MPs a week to pass deal

Fresh blow for Theresa May as MPs vote to permanently rule out a no-deal Brexit

Philip Hammond defies Theresa May to call for cross-party soft Brexit 'consensus'

However, Work and Pensions minister Sarah Newton did resign after she decided to vote against the Government.

In a major break with political convention, Downing Street sources confirmed that only ministers who voted against the Government, rather than abstaining, had to resign.

The rebellion helped ensure that the Government was defeated by 321 votes to 278, heaping fresh humiliation on the Prime Minister.

Tory MP Mark Francois told Sky News: "The collective responsibility has disintegrated - you might as well tell the whips to pack up and go home. The government is barely in office."

The Cabinet ministers who defied Mrs May were David Gauke, Greg Clark, Amber Rudd and David Mundell. Other ministers to rebel included Richard Harrington, Stephen Hammond and Tobias Ellwood.

Commenting on Scottish Secretary Mr Mundell's decision, his Labour shadow Lesley Laird MP, said: "This is an absolute abdication of duty.

“Last night David Mundell proclaimed that he would vote to take no deal off of the table but he appears to have caved under pressure.

"No deal is an economic and social calamity for our country. If he is not sacked, he should resign for the simple reason that his party thought it was a good idea to inflict that on the Scottish people."

But Business Secretary Greg Clark defended his decision to abstain on the bid to kill of the Government's own motion.

The Cabinet minister told ITV's Peston: "I did vote with the Prime Minister against the amendment… On taking no deal off the table forever. But once that amendment had been passed then this was the final chance that Parliament had to have a vote tomorrow on stopping leaving with no deal on the 29th of March, in just over two weeks’ time.

"And I know from my job as Business Secretary, talking to businesses including calls that I’ve had today just how important it is that they know that we won’t inadvertently crash out of the European Union without a deal on the 29th of March.

"And if the motion had not gone through tonight, that would have been it, Parliament would have no further chance of preventing that."

Meanwhile, the Government has confirmed that Brexit will be delayed until at least 30 June - and possibly even longer unless MPs back Mrs May's deal by next Wednesday.