Liz Truss on the brink after Braverman’s angry exit and Commons vote chaos

Liz Truss on the brink after Braverman’s angry exit and Commons vote chaos

Liz Truss’s government is teetering on the brink of collapse after another chaotic day which saw the acrimonious resignation of her home secretary, mayhem in the Commons over a fracking vote, and confusion over whether the Chief and Deputy Chief Whip had quit.

Cabinet minister has called for an investigation into the “manhandling” of Tory MPs to force them to back the government on fracking – saying she is “shocked” by what went on.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan said the UK parliament is “well respected across the world”, making the “intimidation and bullying” – as one Labour MP called it – even more worrying.

In unprecedent chaos, Conservative MPs squared up to their senior whips, who first quit over the mayhem of whether it was a confidence vote – then withdrew their resignations.

Ms Trevelyan, the transport secretary, said: “I was not in the lobbies, but I was shocked to hear the descriptions of what went on.

“I hope Mr Speaker will be investigating closely – and I am sure that he will – to ensure these scenes and these situations do not happen again.”

She added: “It is never acceptable for there to be any harassment of members as they cast their democratic vote.”

The call came as some Conservative MPs – in despair at the meltdown of the government, on a day when the home secretary was also sacked – for Liz Truss to be forced out today.

Charles Walker, a former chair of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories, said: “The grown-ups in our party, and a few do exist, need to meet in a papal conclave over the next 24 hours and decide on a coronation.

And Crispin Blunt, a former minister, said: “It’s plain what is required. We need to effect a change, frankly, today in order to stop this shambles.”

Yesterday, home secretary Suella Braverman lashed out at Ms Truss’s “tumultuous” premiership as she resigned and accused the Government of “breaking key pledges”.

Her exit, coming just five days after Kwasi Kwarteng’s sacking as chancellor, means the Prime Minister has lost two people from the four great offices of state within her first six weeks in No 10, with all eyes on whether other Cabinet ministers could follow suit.

The exodus appeared to continue with speculation that Chief Whip Wendy Morton and her deputy, Craig Whittaker, walked out after a last-minute U-turn on a threat to strip the whip from Conservative MPs if they backed a Labour challenge over fracking.

It came after climate minister Graham Stuart told the Commons minutes before the vote that “quite clearly this is not a confidence vote”, despite Mr Whittaker earlier issuing a “100% hard” three-line whip, meaning any Tory MP who rebelled could be thrown out of the parliamentary party.

No 10 later said Mr Stuart had been “mistakenly” told by Downing Street to say the vote should not be treated as a confidence motion, and that Conservative MPs were “fully aware” it was subject to a three-line whip.

A spokesman said the whips would be speaking to the Tories who failed to support the Government, and those without a “reasonable excuse” would face “proportionate disciplinary action”.

In extraordinary scenes at Westminster, Cabinet ministers Therese Coffey and Jacob Rees-Mogg were among a group of senior Tories accused of pressuring colleagues to go into the “no” lobby, with Labour former minister Chris Bryant saying some MPs were “physically manhandled into another lobby and being bullied”.

Business Secretary Mr Rees-Mogg insisted he had seen no evidence of anyone being manhandled, but senior Tory MP Sir Charles Walker said what took place was “inexcusable” and “a pitiful reflection on the Conservative Parliamentary Party”.

Senior Tory backbencher Sir Roger Gale said: “I saw Wendy looking very unhappy in the lobby and then she stormed out”, while Mr Whittaker was reported to have uttered expletives as he left.

After hours of uncertainty over their departures, Downing Street was forced to issue a clarification that both “remain in post”.

Labour’s fracking ban motion was defeated by 230 votes to 326, with the division list showing 40 Conservative MPs did not vote.

In a statement issued in the early hours of Thursday, a No 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has full confidence in the Chief and Deputy Chief Whip.

“Throughout the day, the whips had treated the vote as a confidence motion. The minister at the despatch box was told, mistakenly, by Downing Street to say that it was not.

“However, Conservative MPs were fully aware that the vote was subject to a three-line whip.

“The whips will now be speaking to Conservative MPs who failed to support the Government. Those without a reasonable excuse for failing to vote with the Government can expect proportionate disciplinary action.”

In a sign of the growing pressure on Ms Truss, Tory former Brexit minister Lord David Frost joined calls for her to step down.

“As Suella Braverman made so clear this afternoon, the Government is implementing neither the programme Liz Truss originally advocated nor the 2019 manifesto. It is going in a completely different direction,” the Conservative peer, who backed Ms Truss to be Prime Minister, wrote in The Telegraph.

“There is no shred of a mandate for this. It’s only happening because the Truss Government messed things up more badly than anyone could have imagined … Something has to give.”

Paul Goodman, editor of the influential ConservativeHome website, said he has “never seen anything like the chaos” of Wednesday.

“I have to say, if you’re looking for a coalition of chaos, Liz Truss is a one-woman coalition of chaos,” he told BBC Two’s Newsnight.

Sir Charles, visibly emotional, told BBC News: “As a Tory MP of 17 years … I think it’s a shambles and a disgrace. I think it is utterly appalling. I’m livid.”

Several Tory MPs sided with him, including Maria Caulfield, who tweeted: “Tonight we are all Charles Walker.”

There is speculation that the chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, has already received more than 54 letters calling for a no-confidence vote in the Prime Minister, the threshold for triggering one if Ms Truss was not in the 12 months’ grace period for new leaders.

In a barely coded dig at the Prime Minister whose disastrous mini-budget sparked financial turmoil, Ms Braverman wrote in her resignation letter: “I have made a mistake; I accept responsibility; I resign.”

The letter continued: “The business of government relies upon people accepting responsibility for their mistakes.

“Pretending we haven’t made mistakes, carrying on as if everyone can’t see that we have made them, and hoping that things will magically come right is not serious politics.

“It is obvious to everyone that we are going through a tumultuous time.”

In an attempt to rescue her ailing leadership, Ms Truss replaced Ms Braverman with Grant Shapps, a backer of her rival, Rishi Sunak, in the Tory leadership race and a critic of her subsequently-abandoned plan to abolish the top rate of income tax.

The former transport secretary spent the Conservative Party conference earlier this month warning that Tory MPs would not “sit on their hands” in ousting Ms Truss without improvement.

Speaking to reporters outside the Home Office, he acknowledged a “turbulent time” but said he is looking forward to getting on with the job “regardless of what’s happening otherwise in Westminster”.

Sir Roger Gale said the chaos over the fracking vote had been a “storm in a teacup”, and that the appointment of Mr Shapps could strengthen Ms Truss’s position.

“The Braverman issue is rather more fundamental, but I think on balance it’s possible the Prime Minister might come out of it actually stronger rather than weaker,” the veteran backbencher said.

“We need people in the Government who are grown-up and experienced and understand real politics.”

Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker claimed Ms Truss “cannot be removed” from No 10.

He told ITV’s Peston: “The Prime Minister cannot be removed; whether she goes or not is up to her.”

Ms Braverman, a former attorney general, admitted sending an “official document from my personal email” to a parliamentary colleague.

She acknowledged that constituted a “technical infringement of the rules”, but made clear a major rift with Ms Truss in her resignation letter.

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