Boris Johnson is “goading” some Tory MPs to rebel so he can force a snap general election having purged opponents of a no-deal Brexit from the party, David Gauke has alleged.
The Conservative former justice secretary and rebel ringleader accused the prime minister of deliberately trying to lose votes to block a deal-less departure this week.
Johnson has put rebels within his party on notice that they face losing the whip and being barred from standing for the Tories if they vote against the government.
Gauke, the leader of the so-called Gaukeward squad of Tory rebels, said the PM’s move was an “unusual” and “particularly confrontational” approach.
And he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he has not been subject to the usual “cajoling” from cabinet allies to urge him to support the government’s line.
“I don’t think there seems to be a huge effort to persuade people to support the government this week. I think they seem to be quite prepared for there to be a rebellion, then to purge those who support the rebellion from the party,” he said.
“None of that is happening. The usual operation isn’t particularly happening. It does seem to me they are almost goading people into voting against the government.
“Because I think the strategy, to be honest, is to lose this week and then seek a general election having removed those of us who are not against Brexit, not against leaving the European Union, but believe we should do so with a deal.”
Gauke also said he has taken the extraordinary move of writing to attorney general Geoffrey Cox and Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland, asking them to confirm whether the government believes in the rule of law.
The backbencher’s letter came after Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove refused to confirm whether ministers would abide by any no-deal prevention law passed.
Gauke said: “The rule of law is hugely important to this country and I am concerned by some of the briefings that have been put out by the Government suggesting that they won’t comply with the law, and I think Michael was equivocal on that question yesterday.”
Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg defended the tough line being taken by No 10 against potential rebels.
“I think that it is important for the government to establish the house of commons and that this is essentially a confidence matter,” he told LBC Radio.
“Is there really a Conservative in this country who thinks that Jeremy Corbyn should control our legislative agenda?”
Schools minister Nick Gibb told Today that the whips were making it clear that it is “a very serious issue” to “undermine our negotiating position” by blocking a no-deal.
Tory MP Antoinette Sandbach said she was willing to put her job on the line to vote against the government and accused Johnson of hypocrisy for twice rebelling by voting against Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement.
“I find it staggeringly hypocritical that he’s threatening to take the whip away,” Sandbach told Sky News.
“If that had happened to him when he voted against Theresa May’s deal, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to stand to be prime minister of this country.”
MPs are being warned to back the Government when Remainers and those who want to leave the European Union with a deal attempt to seize control of the parliamentary agenda on Tuesday.
They will try to pass legislation to prevent leaving the European Union without an agreement in place.
But Conservative MPs are being told by whips that they will be barred from running for the party in an election if they do not back the Government, as part of Johnson’s “do or die” approach to delivering Brexit by the 31 October deadline.
With the Tories having a majority of just one with the DUP’s support, removing the whip from rebels would further weaken his hold on Parliament and increase the chances of an election.
A meeting between the PM and rebels, including Gauke, had been scheduled for Monday but was abruptly cancelled by Downing Street.
Meanwhile, Corbyn was to hold a special meeting of the shadow cabinet in Salford to finalise tactics for opposing a no-deal Brexit.
The Labour leader will say: “We are working with other parties to do everything necessary to pull our country back from the brink.”
But former prime minister Tony Blair was to use a speech in London to urge Labour not to support any push by Downing Street for an early general election, but demand a Brexit referendum instead.
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