Tory Brexit rebel defiant as PM considers threat to withdraw whip

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A leading Conservative opponent of a no-deal Brexit has dismissed threats he could be thrown out the party if he sides with Labour in a House of Commons vote.

Former justice secretary David Gauke, part of the so-called “Gaukeward squad” of ex-Tory ministers opposed to the UK leaving the EU without a deal, told Sky News the “national interest” would trump his “personal interest”.

MPs opposed to a no-deal departure are expected to table legislation on Tuesday, when parliament returns from its summer break, aimed at forcing the prime minister to seek a further delay to Brexit in order to avoid quitting with no divorce agreement.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 24: New Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to media outside Number 10, Downing Street on July 24, 2019 in London, England. Boris Johnson, MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, was elected leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party yesterday receiving 66 percent of the votes cast by the Party members. He takes the office of Prime Minister this afternoon after outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May took questions in the House of Commons for the last time. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Image: Boris Johnson is gathering Tory whips at Chequers

There are claimed to be “a dozen” Conservative MPs willing to rebel against the government to support such legislation – being drafted by Labour and other opposition parties – and defy Boris Johnson’s promise to take the UK out of the EU on 31 October with or without a deal.

The prime minister is holding a summit with Tory whips at his Chequers country retreat on Sunday evening, to also be attended by his key aide Dominic Cummings, where they will determine the government’s stance ahead of a looming parliamentary showdown this week.

This will include discussions as to whether Conservative rebels should face the threat of having the Tory whip withdrawn and be de-selected as party candidates at the next general election.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, the prime minister did not rule out removing the whip or deselecting Tory MPs who rebel against his government.

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But, in the face of such threats, Mr Gauke – who will meet with Mr Johnson on Monday – was defiant that he would not be deterred from acting against the “very, very bad outcome” of a no-deal Brexit.

Highlighting how Mr Johnson himself had rebelled against his predecessor Theresa May’s Brexit deal, Mr Gauke told Sky News Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “If it is the position now that defying a whip on a European vote is a matter that you lose the whip for the Conservative Party then I think there’s quite a lot of Conservative MPs who over the recent months would have lost the whip.

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“Sometimes there is a point where you have to judge between your own personal interests and the national interests, and the national interests have to come first.

“But I hope it doesn’t come to that and I hope cooler and calmer heads will look at this and think trying to split the Conservative Party in this way is not a sensible way forward for the Conservative Party or, indeed, for the country.”

International Development Secretary Alok Sharma, appearing on the same programme, said he would not “pre-empt discussions that may or may not be taking place” around possible action against Tory rebels.

But, delivering his own warning to fellow Conservative MPs, he added: “There is a fundamental point here, which is that we all stood on manifestos saying that we would respect the outcome of the referendum and we need to honour that.

“What I would say to my colleagues is that, actually, siding with the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, they need to reflect very clearly on what these people want.

“They do not want a delay in Brexit, they want to frustrate Brexit.”

Mr Sharma continued: “You do need to be very clear whose side you’re on.

“Are you on the side of people who want to frustrate Brexit, people who would actually ruin the economy, people who, frankly at the end of the day, are not prepared to stand up for Britain?

“Or do you want to stand with the people and deliver on the referendum result?”

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith told the show that the EU was not yet moving in Brexit negotiations – with Mr Johnson demanding changes to the UK’s withdrawal agreement – because of the belief “dupes in parliament” will block a no-deal Brexit.

He said: “Right now, they’re not blinking.

“Why are they not blinking? Because they hope – what they would privately think are the dupes in parliament – who are going to take away the no-deal option from Boris if they can.

“That then means they don’t have to move at all, because they know Boris then faces the choice of not being able to leave but having to extend.

“So the prime minister needs to face this down because if they want to withdraw this, they’re going to take away one of his most critical tools, which is to go without a deal.

“The EU knows this would be enormously damaging and they’re in recession, many of those countries.”