Boris Johnson was right to throw Tory rebels out of the party after their disloyalty over Brexit, according to a minister and ally.
The prime minister brutally sacked 21 Conservative MPs after they voted against the government on Tuesday, as they attempted to block Britain leaving the European Union without a deal on 31 October.
Those sacked include Philip Hammond, David Gauke and Rory Stewart – all of whom were serving in Theresa May’s cabinet just weeks ago. Party stalwarts Ken Clarke and Nicholas Soames, Winston Churchill’s grandson, were also dismissed.
The government lost the vote by a majority of 27 and MPs will now have the opportunity on Wednesday to pass legislation that would effectively take no-deal off the table.
A general election also looms, after the PM confirmed he would seek a public mandate as he accused opposition parties and Tory rebels of “wrecking” chances of a deal with Brussels.
Senior Labour figures have said Johnson is “destroying” his party by sacking dissenters, but business minister Kwasi Kwarteng defended the move.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It was very clearly stated that Conservative MPs would lose the whip.
“Now 21 of them out of 312 – that is about 6% – chose to vote against the Government and they had the whip withdrawn.
“I think it is a shame – a lot of them are very talented people. But you cannot have people standing as Conservative MPs when they are against the government’s policy on the key issue of the day.” Johnson, as well as key ministers Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and Jacob Rees-Mogg all previously defied the government to vote against Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement.
Stewart, who was a candidate in the recent Tory leadership race, said he was told about the decision to withdraw the whip by text message.
He called it an “astonishing moment” at the end of what has been a hectic six-week period for the Penrith and the Border MP, having been seen as an outside favourite for prime minister at one stage of the leadership proceedings.
“It feels a little bit like something you associate with other countries – one opposes the leader, one loses the leadership race, no longer in the cabinet and now apparently thrown out of the party and one’s seat too,” he said.
The pro-Withdrawal Agreement politician said Johnson’s tactics could “divide this country” for more than a generation if he continues to push through a no-deal Brexit without Parliament’s consent.
He said: “One of the strongest reasons why this is the wrong thing to do is because to deliver Brexit like this is to create a poison pill which for 40 years will divide this country straight down the middle.
“If you are going to deliver Brexit at all, try to do it legally, constitutionally and with consent.”
Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, predicted trouble ahead for the Tory party.
“To be honest, removing the whip from well regarded Tory MPs that have served their party for years amounts to Johnson and [the PM’s adviser Dominic] Cummings destroying their own party. That will not end well,” Starmer told the BBC.
The opposition victory in the Commons on Tuesday will see them take control of business in the House on Wednesday in a bid to stop no-deal.
As a result, the PM said he would table a motion for a general election under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, which could be put to a vote on Wednesday evening.
Labour indicated it would not back the move – which would require the support of two-thirds of MPs – until chances of a no-deal Brexit were taken off the table.
Johnson said Parliament is “on the brink of wrecking any deal” with Brussels after voting to give the cross-party alliance control of the Commons.
Taking to Twitter on Wednesday, he said: “Corbyn and his surrender bill would mean years of uncertainty and delay. I am determined to lead this country forward and take Britain out of the EU on October 31.”
Downing Street confirmed the 21 Tory rebels would lose the Conservative whip as a result of their actions.
Soames said he would not stand at the next general election.
Former Tory ministers Greg Clark, Justine Greening, Dominic Grieve, Alistair Burt, Sam Gyimah, Anne Milton and Caroline Nokes also voted against the government.
Former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said on Twitter: “How, in the name of all that is good and holy, is there no longer room in the Conservative Party for @NSoames? #anofficerandagentleman.”
Wednesday will also see Johnson take his first session of Prime Minister’s Questions, before Chancellor Sajid Javid sets out public spending plans.
MPs will then debate the draft legislation put forward by a cross-party group which would require a delay to Brexit unless there is a deal or Parliament explicitly backed leaving the EU without one by October 19.
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