As the Commons battle over the departure from the EU deepened, David Campbell Bannerman rounded on Conservative colleagues threatening to block the Government’s attempt to enshrine the exit date into law.
They should lose the party whip in the Commons and face deselection as Conservative election candidates if they side with Labour in a forthcoming Commons vote confirming March 29 2019 as the Brexit date.
His warning came after up to 15 Tory backbenchers threatened to defy ministers in key votes during the parliamentary scrutiny of the EU Withdrawal Bill.
The group included nine MPs representing constituencies where a majority of voters backed leaving the European bloc in last year’s historic in-or-out EU referendum.
David Campbell Bannerman has led calls for rebel Tory MPs should be thrown out of the party
A vote against this commitment would be a huge breach of trust
They were Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan, Oliver Heald, Jonathan Djanogly, Vicky Ford, Tom Tugendhat, Jeremy Lefroy, Sarah Wollaston and Antoinette Sandbach.
Mr Campbell Bannerman, a Tory MP for the East of England, said: “All Conservative candidates stood on a manifesto only a few months ago to honour the people’s decision to leave the EU.
“A vote against this commitment would be a huge breach of trust, show contempt for democracy and should lead to their loss of the whip and deselection by the party.
“Whilst the Government is open and listening to reasonable amendments to the Bill, any such vote against the Brexit date itself would be well beyond the pale.”
Ukip deputy leader Margot Parker said: “The sight of Tory MPs threatening to vote against the Government, particularly those who sit for Leave constituencies, turns my stomach.
Anna Soubry was among 15 Tory backbenchers who threatened to defy ministers
“These men and women, who won their seats fighting on a clear manifesto and the voices of 17.5 million shouting in their ears, should be ashamed of themselves.
“They believe that they are better, nobler and wiser than they people they are paid to serve. They are not.”
MPs are due to vote on a Government amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill drafted to write the Brexit date onto the statue book by the end of the year.
Senior Tories were yesterday confident the measure will pass despite the threatened rebellion.
One backbencher said: “With support from the Democratic Unionist Party and the Labour Eurosceptics, we should be in the clear.”
The row over the threatened rebellion intensified yesterday when Ms Soubry, a former business minister, hit out after being branded a “Brexit mutineer” in a newspaper report.
“The bullying begins. We want a good Brexit not a hard, ideologically-driven Brexit,” she said on Twitter.
In the Commons, Ms Soubry said: “None of the people who have been named – I take it as a badge of honour – want to delay or thwart Brexit.
“We just want a good Brexit that works for everybody in our country. That is not a lot to ask for in a democracy.”
She told MPs that a series of social media messages attacking her over her Brexit stance had been reported to the police.
John Bercow was ‘extremely concerned’ about the matter
Raising a parliamentary point of order with Commons Speaker John Bercow, she said: “According to my office, they have just reported about five, if not more, tweets to the police issuing threats against myself following the front page article on today’s Daily Telegraph.
“Would you therefore make it clear to everybody, in whatever capacity, that they have an absolute duty to report responsibly – make sure they use language that actually brings our country together and makes sure we have a democracy that welcomes free speech and an attitude of tolerance.”
Mr Bercow was “extremely concerned” about the matter. He said: “She should not be subject to threats and neither should any other member of this House or indeed any person for holding and expressing a political opinion.
“Thankfully we do have a free press, imperfect, deeply flawed like all of us they don’t always realise it.
“They realise everyone else’s flaws but very rarely their own but our media are deeply flawed but nevertheless they are free and that is a good thing.
“None of us would seek to deny the merits, indeed the indispensability in a free society, of a free press
“Equally however, members of this House are free and duty bound to do what they think is right, I hope she won’t take it amiss, not only is any attempt to threaten or intimidate her or any colleague repugnant it is also doomed to fail.
“I know her and I know my colleagues well enough to know that even if there are people who think they can intimidate or even if hypothetically there were someone in the media who thought that he or she could intimidate that person would be grossly mistaken.
“Members will not be intimidated and they never should be – I think end of subject.”
Tory Brexit minister Steve Baker, a leading figure in the Leave in the run up to the referendum yesterday defended the right of Remain-backing colleagues to raise concerns about aspects of the Withdrawal Bill.
1 of 7
He claimed the attacks on so-called Brexit mutineers were “attempts to divide our party”.
Mr Baker said: “My parliamentary colleagues have sincere suggestions to improve the Bill which we are working through and I respect them for that.”
Mrs May yesterday vowed to listen to concerns from Tory backbenchers about her Brexit plans and urged the party to come together.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions at Westminster, she said: “We will be leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019.
“There is of course a lively debate going on in this place—that is right and proper, and that is important—and strong views are held on different sides of the argument about the European Union on both sides of this House.
Theresa May at an industry roundtable with leading figures from the tech sector today
“What we are doing as a Government is listening to the contributions that are being made and listening carefully to those who wish to improve the Bill, and I hope that we can all come together to deliver on the decision that the country took that we should leave the European Union.”
She spoke out after Tory MP Michael Tomlinson, who voted for the UK to quit the EU, backed the right of fellow backbenchers to raise their concerns about Brexit and seek to amend Government legislation.
He said: “It is part of our job as Members of Parliament—some may even say it is our duty as Members of Parliament—to scrutinise that legislation; to debate considered amendments that seek to improve the Bill, and that are constructive and seek to ensure a smooth transition of our laws from the EU to the UK; and, importantly, to come together and deliver Brexit for our country and for the British people.”
The 15 Tory MPs were understood to have made their threats to vote against the Brexit date in private conversations party whips.
One of their number was last night furious that their names had been leaked.
Dr Wollaston, MP for Totnes, said she was identified as a mutineer in media reports after she raised concerns with a whip.
She insisted the allegation that she was “trying to frustrate” Brexit “could not be further from the truth”. She claimed her name was “deliberately” leaked.