Chief whip Julian Smith 'contacting local Tory associations' to pile pressure on Brexit rebels
Tory chief whip Julian Smith has been contacting party activists in seats held by rebel MPs in a bid to stave of government defeats on Brexit.
Senior Conservative sources branded to move, which is designed to pile pressure on pro-EU backbenchers, "outrageous".
Details of the tactic emerged after Theresa May survived her latest showdown with the rebels over the EU Withdrawal Bill.
A last-ditch compromise offered by Brexit Secretary David Davis on giving Parliament a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal was enough to prevent around half a dozen Tory MPs voting with Labour.
But the extent of the Government's anxiety was laid bare after it emerged Mr Smith had begged senior officials in local Conservative associations for help.
A Tory insider said: "The chief whip has been contacting local associations telling members to put pressure on their MPs not to vote against the Government on Brexit.
"It's an outrageous tactic, but shows how worried they are about the damage that the rebels can inflict upon them."
Around 14 Tory rebels would be enough to defeat Theresa May on the floor of the Commons, a result which could prove devastating for her leadership.
The next flashpoint is expected to be over calls for Britain to remain in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.
More than a dozen Conservative MPs have put their names to a cross-party amendment to the upcoming Customs Bill which would bring that into effect.