Liz Truss’s premiership is hanging by a thread after a chaotic day saw her Home Secretary resign, mayhem in the Commons over a fracking vote, and confusion over whether the Chief and Deputy Chief Whip had quit.
Braverman’s exit came just five days after Kwasi Kwarteng was sacked as Chancellor, meaning Truss has lost two people from the four great offices of state within her first six weeks in No 10.
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 Tory MPs if they backed a Labour challenge over fracking.
It came after climate minister Graham Stuart told the Commons minutes before the vote that “quite clearly this is not a confidence vote”, despite Whittaker earlier issuing a “100% hard” three-line whip, meaning any Tory MP who rebelled could be thrown out of the parliamentary party.
No 10 later said Stuart had been “mistakenly” told by Downing Street to say the vote should not be treated as a confidence motion, and that Tory MPs were “fully aware” it was subject to a three-line whip.
A spokesman said the whips would be speaking to the Tories who failed to support the government and those without a “reasonable excuse” would face “proportionate disciplinary action”.
MPs ‘manhandled and bullied’
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. Labour former minister Chris Bryant said some MPs were “physically manhandled into another lobby and being bullied”.
Business Secretary Rees-Mogg insisted he had seen no evidence of anyone being manhandled, but senior Tory MP Sir Charles Walker said what took place was “inexcusable” and “a pitiful reflection on the Conservative Parliamentary Party”.
After hours of uncertainty over their departures, Downing Street was forced to issue a clarification that both the Chief and Deputy Chief Whip “remain in post”.
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 statement issued in the early hours of Thursday, a No 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has full confidence in the Chief and Deputy Chief Whip. Throughout the day, the whips had treated the vote as a confidence motion. The minister at the despatch box was told, mistakenly, by Downing Street to say that it was not.
“However, Conservative MPs were fully aware that the vote was subject to a three-line whip. The whips will now be speaking to Conservative MPs who failed to support the government. Those without a reasonable excuse for failing to vote with the government can expect proportionate disciplinary action.”
Calls grow for Truss to step down
Tory former Brexit minister Lord David Frost has joined calls for Truss to step down in a sign of the growing pressure on the Prime Minister.
The Conservative peer, who backed Truss to be Prime Minister, wrote in The Telegraph: “As Suella Braverman made so clear this afternoon, the government is implementing neither the programme Liz Truss originally advocated nor the 2019 manifesto. It is going in a completely different direction.
“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, Sir 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 Truss was not in the 12 months’ grace period for new leaders.
Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said “at the moment” Truss will still lead the party into the next election, adding that the government is seeking to provide stability. Trevelyan said Chancellor Jeremy Hunt should be given the time to set out his financial plans at the end of October.
Meanwhile, a senior MP said Truss has just hours to turn the situation around following the chaos in Parliament on Wednesday.