Anti-Brexit ministers used the word ‘Tally-ho!’ in a WhatsApp group chat moments before they helped hand the Prime Minister yet another humiliating defeat in the House of Commons. Four of Mrs May’s cabinet ministers, nicknamed the ‘gang of four’ defied the Tory whip ordering them to back leaving the EU without a deal in last night’s vote. Work and pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, business secretary Greg Clark, justice secretary David Gauke and Scottish secretary David Mundell were joined by 18 other Conservative MPs who abstained from the vote and 17 further Tories who left Theresa May’s authority in tatters by voting against her will and saying they would not back no deal in any circumstance.
The rebels used the ‘Tally-ho!’ codeword as they prepared to support the amendment which changed the government’s motion from ruling out no deal on March 29 to rejecting leaving the European Union on any date.
The defeat has left Theresa May’s hands tied as she has been stripped of a major bargaining chip against Brussels.
Despite the petulant text messages and unprecedented mutiny, all rebels appear safe from losing their government jobs.
Downing Street has decided to take no action against the Conservatives who flouted Theresa May’s command despite convention dictating ministers should resign if they defy a three-line whip.
Brexiters have reacted furiously to Number 10’s acceptance of being walked all over by the rebels.
Arch-eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “Collective responsibility requires ministers to support government policy or to resign. It is a basic constitutional point.”
Meanwhile leading Brexiter Mark Francois told Sky News: “Collective responsibility has disintegrated – you might as well tell the whips’ office to pack up and go home.
“A number of very pro-Remain ministers realised how close it was, they had done the maths, and so they made themselves scarce, even though there was a strong three-line whip to vote against it.
“Normally ministers who did that would have to resign.”
Tory Brexiteer Andrea Jenkyns told ITV’s Peston: “I think Mr Clark and the other ministers should resign.”
With the gang of four keeping their jobs and the dozens of others who broke rank also going unpunished, middle-ranking minister Sarah Newton was the only Conservative casualty after the 43 vote defeat on the main motion.
The pro-Brexit Truro and Falmouth MP quit after voting for rejecting no deal, explaining afterwards she went against Mrs May’s orders because she still had faith in the twice-failed Withdrawal Agreement.
Mr Clark defended his rebellion, saying: “It has been completely consistent with government policy to date that we should not leave on March 29 without a deal.
“We acted completely in accordance with long-standing government policy.”