Tory rebels offered an olive branch
Johnson allows MPS to appeal against withdrawal of the whip in hint that battle is looming over a Brexit deal
BORIS JOHNSON last night offered Tory rebels a way back into the party amid a growing split among Conservatives over his decision to kick them out.
The Prime Minister instructed the Chief Whip to write to all MPS setting out the appeals process to restore the whip, which was described as a “ray of light” for the rebels by a senior party source. It comes amid growing signs Mr Johnson could be about to broker a Brexit deal over Northern Ireland for which he would need the maximum possible number of Tory MPS to get it through the Commons.
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Sajid Javid, the Chancellor, have all urged the Prime Minister to offer an “olive branch” to some of the rebels.
The Daily Telegraph also understands Jacob Rees-mogg, the Leader of the House, and Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary, have spoken in support of letting some of the MPS back into the party, providing they agree that the Government must be allowed to do its business.
A source close to Mr Buckland said: “While the decision to remove the whip is understandable, there must be a way back.”
However, Mr Johnson was warned that any decision to reinstate the rebels could enrage Brexiteers, causing yet more problems with party discipline.
In a sign that he will now try for a compromise Brexit deal, the Prime Minister has told Tory rebels he is ready for “spears in my back” from hardline Brexiteers and the DUP.
It came as a Scottish court ruled that Mr Johnson’s decision to prorogue Parliament was unlawful, meaning the Prime Minister faces having to recall MPS if the decision is upheld by the Supreme Court next week. Mr Johnson would then need the support of as many MPS as possible to fight fresh attempts to thwart his Brexit plans.
Yesterday, Downing Street published its “worst-case scenario” plan for a no-deal Brexit, code-named Operation Yellowhammer, which predicts shortages of medical supplies, huge delays at the Channel crossings, disrupted fuel and food supplies and a rise in public disorder. However, the document, which was released following a vote in Parliament demanding its publication, is almost six weeks out of date, meaning it does not take into account ramped-up no-deal planning in that time.
As No10 wrestles with the Tory rebels, at least three different versions of the Chief Whip’s letter have been sent out, some more welcoming than others, The Telegraph understands, suggesting some MPS have a better chance of returning to the fold than others.
A government source said: “It’s not like they’re all one bloc. Some are fully off the reservation, while some want to have some path back – maybe by voting for the Government in the Queen’s Speech, or voting for a new deal.”
Steve Brine, Stephen Hammond, Anne Milton and Richard Benyon are among the rebel MPS whom Cabinet ministers are keen to see reinstated.
Philip Hammond, the former chancellor, has responded to the letter by asking for clarification on the reasons for his expulsion.
A spokesman for Mr Hammond said: “The letter reads like an olive branch of sorts. If that is the tone that No 10 is taking, that is a welcome one.” Mr Benyon said he had replied to the Chief Whip, expressing a desire to return to the party.
He said: “I’m hoping to have the whip restored but I will still stand down at the next election.
“The Prime Minister has rebelled a great many times, the Leader of the House more than 100 times and the Chief Whip many times, so the way we have been treated is extraordinary.
“We have been invited to apply to an appeals process and that is what I have done and I think most of the others will do, but I don’t think any of those who have said they will not stand again have changed their minds on that.”
Lord Flight, the former MP, urged Mr Johnson to consider a “forgiveness deal” for the 21 MPS. He wrote to The
Telegraph to say: “It is important for the Government not to be perceived as acting disproportionately.”
One of the rebels, who does not plan to appeal, said: “There are some people they’d like to get back – and others they do not want”. Another MP said the tone of their letter was “schoolmasterish” and said that receiving the Conservative party whip is a “privilege”.
Daniel Kawczynski, the Brexiteer Tory MP, said readmitting the MPS could endanger any deal Mr Johnson brings back from Brussels.
“Party discipline is going to suffer very badly if people are allowed to vote against the Conservative government in a motion of confidence,” he said.
“I have said to the Chief Whip – if he backs down on this now, then it is setting up a green light for future MPS to trash this very important rule we have.”
A Conservative Party source described the appeals process as a “ray of light” for the rebels but added: “It’s a long way back for them.”
The MPS have been told to inform Sir Graham Brady of their intention to appeal, and an appeal panel will include representatives of the 1922 Committee, the National Conservative Convention and the whips’ office.
The letters come as the Operation Yellowhammer document, which was leaked to a Sunday newspaper last month, predicts up to 85 per cent of lorries “may not be ready for French customs”, meaning drivers being delayed in Kent for two and a half days.
It predicts that “the worst disruption might last for up to three months” before it improves, and only then to between 50 and 70 per cent of the normal speed of crossings.
Such delays would, “unmitigated, have an impact on the supply of medicines and medical supplies”.
It also predicts “significant electricity price increases for consumers” and a risk that panic-buying could lead to food shortages. Shortages of chemicals used in the purification process could also affect clean water supplies.
The result could be “a rise in public disorder and community tensions”.