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Tory MPs could resign whip if no-deal Brexit becomes primary focus

December 19, 2018 3:47 PM
By Jessica Elgot and Peter Walker in The Guardian

libdems at Brexit marchAnna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Nick Boles say they would not be able to back government

Conservative MPs have suggested they could resign the party whip should the government abandon plans for a Brexit agreement and make no deal its main focus.

The former ministers Nick Boles and Anna Soubry, along with the health select committee chair, Sarah Wollaston, have said they would not be able to support the government should no deal become its primary policy.

Boles, (grnatham and Stamford) a close ally of the environment secretary, Michael Gove, is a leading advocate of a Norway-style relationship with the EU, in which the UK would remain a member of the European Economic Area as well as negotiating a customs union. He has not backed calls for a second referendum, unlike Soubry and Wollaston.

"The cabinet spent this morning discussing preparations for 'no deal' Brexit. I accept that it is prudent for the government to get ready for all eventualities. But I owe my constituents and my colleagues total clarity about my position," Boles tweeted.

"If at any point between now and 29 March the government were to announce that 'no deal' Brexit had become its policy, I would immediately resign the Conservative whip and vote in any way necessary to stop it from happening."

Soubry responded to Boles's tweet, saying. "You, me and other moderate One Nation Tories. Country must come before party allegiance."

Wollaston told Newsnight she believed no deal would be so damaging she would resign the whip if it was pursued.

"If it becomes the main objective of government policy to deliver no deal and no transition, then the consequences of that would be so horrific for the people I represent then I couldn't stay a member of the Conservative party," she said.

Other Tory MPs, including Theresa May's former policy adviser George Freeman, have expressed serious concern about the preparations needed to avoid a chaotic no deal since the government announced it was ramping up contingency plans.

On Tuesday, cabinet ministers agreed to a dramatic escalation of preparations for a no-deal scenario, including putting 3,500 armed forces personnel on standby and reserving space on ferries for emergency food supplies.

Downing Street said it would send advice on preparing for no deal to all UK businesses and suggested they should begin implementing their own contingency plans as they saw fit.

On Wednesday, five business organisations - the CBI, Institute of Directors, British Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses and the manufacturing body EEF - issued a joint call for MPs to find a solution, saying many companies had yet to make any preparations for what had until recently been seen as a remote possibility, and that it was far too late to start.