We are about to break one of this site’s golden rules – namely, never to list MPs who abstain on a Government motion.

The reason for this is that absention doesn’t automatically equal defying the whip.  The MP concerned could be abroad.  He or she could be ill.  He could be on urgent family business.

None the less, there must be a reasonable presumption that, if a pro-Remain or Soft Brexit Minister didn’t vote with the Government in the final vote this evening, he was breaking the Whip.  The following names are being listed:

  • David Gauke, Justice Secretary.
  • Greg Clark, Business Secretary.
  • David Mundell, Scotland Secretary.
  • Amber Rudd, Work and Pensions Secretary.
  • Claire Perry, Business Minister, entitled to attend Cabinet.
  • Robert Buckland, Solicitor-General.
  • Alistair Burt, Foreign Office Minister.
  • Tobias Ellwood, Defence Minister.
  • Stephen Hammond, Health Minister.
  • Richard Harrington, Business Minister.
  • Margot James, Business Minister.
  • Ann Milton, Education Minister.

Now, it may well be that there are extenuating circumstances.  First, it wasn’t expected that the Government’s motion would be amended. Before it was passed, the whip for the Government’s motion was for a free vote.

Next, it is being claimed that a senior MP, or Downing Street aide, or both, indicated to some of the Ministers concerned that they would be able to abstain on the motion still – despite the amendment, originally tabled by Caroline Spelman, having been passed.

The long and short of it is that it isn’t clear as we write which of the above, bar Mundell, acted knowingly in defiance of a three-line whip.  And the waters will doubtless be muddied sufficiently so that we never know.

Sarah Newton, a Work and Pensions Minister, and Paul Masterton, a PPS, are reported to have voted against the whip, and resigned.

8.30am Update March 14: It is being reported that Bim Afolami, Vicky Ford, Peter Heaton-Jones, Simon Hoare and Victoria Prentis, all PPS’s, also abstained, together with Nigel Huddleston, a Party Vice-Chair.