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The threat has not gone down well with the Conservatives, with party members and former ministers warning that ‘arm twisting from the whips’ office’ would “backfire”.
Bullying tactics from party whips
The Tory party whip office has been in overdrive since the disastrous general election result saw the Tories lose their working majority in the Commons this year. To pass bills in the house, they have been forced to use bullying tactics to deter MPs from voting against the party-line.
Concerned with the likelihood of any hard Brexit bill being voted against by pro-Remain Tory MPs, they issued a stern warning to these potential rebels: any MPs attempting to water down the Repeal Bill will be seen to be “supporting Jeremy Corbyn”.
“Trouncing of democracy”
However, this has backfired enormously; Tory MPs are absolutely furious.
Former ministers, senior Tory MPs, and backbenchers have all come together to condemn this ‘intimidation and bullying’ from party chiefs.
To be told that they are in support of the opposition for having a different stance is preposterous. Brexit divided the main political parties as well as the country – wanting to deliver a version of Brexit that they believe in does not mean they are party traitors.
Questioning the democracy behind the thinly veiled threats, pro-Remain MP and former Tory minister Anna Soubry said:
Any suggestion that this is any way treacherous or supporting Jeremy Corbyn is outrageous. It amounts to a trouncing of democracy and people will not accept it.
People will be very alarmed. It will all backfire on them.
The fury ignited by the comments is clear. Another senior Tory MP said:
If there is any more of this kind of nonsense from the prime minister or the whips then the feeling against her – which is already considerable – will grow to the point where her position is unsustainable.
Leadership challenge becoming increasingly likely
Some believe that this sort of behaviour from the Prime Minister’s office will lead to Theresa May being challenged as party leader in the autumn.
A Conservative Party leadership challenge will be immediately triggered if enough Tory MPs express a lack of confidence in Theresa May. This is achieved by them writing letters to the chairman of the 1922 committee, Graham Brady. The number of MPs required for this contest is 15% of the party’s 317 elected MPs, so would need just 48 to do this.
A former cabinet minister told The Observer that May’s hardline position on Brexit and her determination to cling on to power will “definitely” trigger some of these letters over the coming weeks.
It remains to be seen whether it will be enough for a leadership contest.
Theresa May is unlikely to win a leadership challenge
Theresa May’s future as Prime Minister has been in serious doubt for a while now. Former chancellor George Osbourne has called May a “dead woman walking” and just last week compared her leadership to a “second-rate horror film“.
A Conservative poll in July saw her popularity amongst party members fall from top to second bottom. If there are more than two candidates running for leadership, the party members have the final vote between these. Given her dismal poll standings, whoever the challenger is, it seems unlikely she would win the leadership election.
How much longer can she cling on to power?
Theresa May surprised everyone by stating this week her intention of leading the Conservative Party into the next general election.
Given the growing probability of an imminent leadership challenge and her unpopularity in the party, the real question is: will she even be leading the party next year?
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