British Prime Minister Liz Truss’s government is teetering on the brink of collapse after the resignation of her home secretary, mayhem in the House of Commons over a fracking vote and confusion over whether the Chief and Deputy Chief Whip had quit.
Suella Braverman lashed out at Ms Truss’s “tumultuous” leadership as she quit 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 office, 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.
After hours of uncertainty over their departure, Downing Street was forced to issue a clarification that both “remain in post”.
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 that rebelled could be thrown out of the parliamentary party.
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 had been “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 Charles Walker said what took place was “inexcusable” and “a pitiful reflection on the Conservative Parliamentary Party”.
“I saw Wendy looking very unhappy in the lobby and then she stormed out,” senior Tory backbencher Roger Gale told the PA news agency, while Mr Whittaker was reported to have uttered expletives as he left.
The allegations of ministers bullying Conservative MPs during the vote are under investigation by the parliamentary authorities.
House Speaker Lindsay Hoyle has asked the Serjeant at Arms, who is responsible for keeping order within the Commons, and other senior officials to examine the claims.
Opening proceedings in the chamber this morning, he told MPs: “I wish to say something about the reports of behaviour in the division lobbies last night.
“I have asked the Serjeant at Arms and other senior officials to investigate the incident and report back to me. I will then update the House.”
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 sign of the growing pressure on Ms Truss, former Brexit minister David Frost joined calls for her to step down.
“As Suella Braverman made so clear … the government is implementing neither the programme Liz Truss originally advocated nor the 2019 manifesto. It is going in a completely different direction,” Mr Frost, 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”.
There is speculation that the chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, 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”.
Chances of PM Liz Truss surviving the week improve
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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