While the tax credits row is the focus of attention, the grinding wheels of Government will today get round to exacting their revenge for a previous defeat – namely on Conservative MPs who rebelled against the proposal to restrict the purdah period in the EU referendum.
ConservativeHome can reveal that today three of the rebels – Cheryl Gillan, Sir Edward Leigh and Chris Chope – will be sacked from their posts on the Council of Europe. Their roles as members of the UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly are decided by the Prime Minister, so it appears to be a personal punishment for their disloyalty.
The Sunday Times reported fears that Downing Street would move against the three last week, and highlighted widespread concerns about the harm such a step could do to the unity and mood of the Parliamentary Conservative Party. The sacking will no doubt further raise concern among anti-EU MPs and ministers that the Prime Minister intends to take a zero tolerance approach to those colleagues who differ from him on matters concerning the EU referendum question – concern which will do nothing to help cohesion on an already sensitive topic. All three are respected and well-connected – and Gillan is a Vice-Chairman of the 1922 Committee. If the move is somehow intended to enforce discipline, it therefore seems likely to prove counter-productive.
One source also points out that the move could prove to backfire in another way, too: “One of the main points of this [Council of Europe] delegation is to get difficult people out of the way.” In effect, while Gillan, Leigh and Chope lose out in the short term, the Prime Minister has ensured all three will now have more time to spend in Westminster.