Tory whips at war with Downing Street after ministers given free pass over no-deal Brexit vote

Posted On: 
13th March 2019

Downing Street was on Wednesday night at war with its own whips after ministers were allowed to defy an order to effectively support a no-deal Brexit.

Downing Street is said to have gone over the heads of whips
Credit: 
House of Commons

Cabinet Ministers Amber Rudd and David Gauke were among 13 members of the government who abstained on a three-line whip after being told by an aide to Theresa May they would keep their jobs, it was claimed.

Amid the confusion the Government was defeated on the motion in a fresh humiliation for the Prime Minister.

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'

The move has sparked accusations that No 10 undermined the whips office after desperate attempts by enforcers to ensure Tory MPs followed the order to vote it down.

MPs were voting on a demand to block a no-deal Brexit - after a weaker government motion saying a no-deal was the legal default was amended to beef it up.

A desperate whipping operation was launched to ensure MPs would reject the new wording - effectively telling them to support a no-deal Brexit, which a number of ministers are set against.

Andrew Bowie, an aide to the Prime Minister, was told to inform those who might have otherwise resigned that they could abstain on the motion and keep their jobs, PoliticsHome understands.

“There is a fucking massive row breaking out because No 10 undermined the whips office by telling Bowie he could tell ministers they could abstain on that last division,” a source said.

“Either the chief whip [Julian Smith] is whipping the parliamentary party or No 10 are. He is going to have to decide on his future if the Government refuses to sack all the ministers who abstained.”

One minister who abstained told PoliticsHome: “Ministers were told they could abstain. I got that from colleagues, although I know Andrew Bowie was directly involved in telling other people that.”

One source said the order came from Gavin Barwell - the chief of staff to the Prime Minister. Downing Street refused to comment and Mr Bowie could not be reached.

Among those who abstained were Cabinet ministers Greg Clark and David Mundell, as well as ministers Claire Perry, Tobias Ellwood, Stephen Hammond, and a whip Mike Freer.

A furious Tory MP said: “A Government that cannot dispense with the services of the likes of Tobias Ellwood without risk is a Government that needs to be put out of its misery.”

Another added: “That’s it. We’re done. There is no Government. Just people occupying offices, sipping lattes and pretending. And it’s all her fault.”

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

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.