UK Prime Minister Liz Truss is battling to cling onto power after her Home Secretary resigned, her Chip Whip was reported to have quit and senior Tories were accused of bullying MPs into voting against a Labour motion.
his evening Cabinet ministers Therese Coffey and Jacob Rees-Mogg were among the group of senior Tories accused of bullying Conservative MPs into voting against a Labour motion on fracking in order to limit the size of a revolt.
Amid extraordinary scenes at Westminster, one Tory MP was “physically manhandled” into the “no” lobby to ensure he opposed the motion, according to opposition MPs.
Mr Rees-Mogg, the Business Secretary, insisted he had seen no evidence of anyone being manhandled and there had simply been a “normal” discussion among MPs as they prepared to vote.
But senior Tory MP Sir Charles Walker said what took place was “inexcusable”.
“It is a pitiful reflection on the Conservative Parliamentary Party at every level and it reflects really badly, obviously, on the Government of the day,” he told BBC News.
Allegations of manhandling were not made against Chief Whip Wendy Morton or her deputy.
Ms Morton had told colleagues she had quit but the prime minister was reportedly trying to convince her to change her mind.
Number 10 tonight confirmed that both Ms Morton and her deputy remain in their posts.
The drama unfolded just hours after Home Secretary Suella Braverman resigned after she shared sensitive documents relating to immigration documents on a private phone.
The chaos in Westminster erupted shortly before a vote on the Labour fracking motion at 7pm, after climate minister Graham Stuart announced in the Commons chamber that, contrary to what MPs had been told earlier, it was not being treated as a vote of confidence in the Government of Ms Truss.
Until that point, Tory MPs had been on notice that they would have the whip withdrawn and would be expelled from the parliamentary party if they failed to support the Government.
Senior Labour MP Chris Bryant said there was pandemonium outside the division lobbies, with MPs opposed to the lifting of the moratorium on fracking uncertain what would happen to them if they voted with the opposition.
In the chaos, Mr Bryant said that Alex Stafford, the Tory MP for Rother Valley, was bundled into the “no” lobby.
“There was a bunch of Conservative members obviously completely uncertain whether they were allowed to vote with Labour or against it,” he told Sky News.
“There was a group including several Cabinet ministers who were basically shouting at them. At least one member was physically pulled through the door into the voting lobby. That is completely out of order.
“I know that Therese Coffey was in the group. I know that Jacob Rees-Mogg was in the group, and there were others as well. The group all moved forward with one member.
“It was Alex Stafford. He was, to my mind, physically manhandled into the lobby.”
Another Labour MP, David Linden, said he saw Ms Coffey, the Deputy Prime Minister, “practically pick up a hesitant Tory MP and march him into the Government lobby”.
Ms Coffey denied the claim, with a source close to her telling the PA news agency: “She didn’t manhandle anyone.”
Mr Rees-Mogg said he had not seen any bullying when the vote took place.
“There were discussions going on, and there was a discussion about the vote that was taking place, and this was what normally goes on outside the division lobby,” he told PA.
“I heard one person swear and use an expletive… a Conservative, when going into the division lobby, swear and say, sort of, ‘get on with it’, but he wasn’t saying it to an individual.
“I didn’t see any bullying and I saw nobody being manhandled.”
Mr Rees-Mogg said there had been “confusion” after a “junior official” from No 10 had relayed a message to the government front bench that it was no longer a confidence vote.
“Nobody else was aware of that. Most members thought it was a vote of confidence,” he said.
The government won the vote by 326 to 230, although more than 30 Tory MPs were recorded as not taking part.
The latest debacle in the leadership of Ms Truss has only served to heap more pressure on her.
She has appointed Grant Shapps, a supporter of her leadership rival Rishi Sunak, to replace Ms Braverman as Home Secretary. Mr Shapps has been one of Ms Truss’s most vocal critics.
In her resignation letter Ms Braverman said: “I have made a mistake; I accept responsibility; I resign.” However, she also used the letter to hit out at the direction of the UK government under Liz Truss.
The latest controversy caused the prime minister to make a last-minute cancellation of a trip out of Westminster on Wednesday.
Ms Braverman is a figure-head of the right in the party and the exit of a former Tory leadership candidate will create further challenges for Ms Truss as she struggles to maintain her grip on power.
Ms Braverman, a former attorney general, only became home secretary on September 6 when Ms Truss brought her in to replace Priti Patel.
In her letter resigning as home secretary, Ms Braverman said she had “concerns about the direction of this government”.
“It is obvious to everyone that we are going through a tumultuous time,” she said.
“I have concerns about the direction of this government. Not only have we broken key pledges that were promised to our voters, but I have had serious concerns about this Government’s commitment to honouring manifesto commitments, such as reducing overall migration numbers and stopping illegal migration, particularly the dangerous small boats crossings.”
The resignation came as Ms Truss is facing threats from multiple fronts:
– She faces a Tory rebellion on a Labour-led motion to ban fracking that is being seen as a “confidence motion” in her Government.
– A sixth Conservative MP publicly called for her resignation when William Wragg said he was “personally ashamed” of telling his constituents to back the Tories.
– There is speculation a tranche of Tories have sent letters to the chair of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers Sir Graham Brady demanding a no confidence vote
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