The 21 former Conservative MPs from whom the Tory whip has been removed are not a homogeneous group. Some, like Justine Greening, are opposed to Brexit, and will stand down from the Commons at the coming general election. Others, like Philip Hammond, voted for Theresa May’s deal, are against No Deal, voted with the Opposition on Oliver Letwin’s timetabling motion without hesitation, and may well contest the election. Others still, like Richard Benyon, are against No Deal and won’t stand again, but agonised before backing the motion: he made up his mind only a few hours before the vote. There are further variations.
This site believes that the withdrawal of the whip was correct, though we set out three reservations about the decision earlier this week. It would be best for the balance of the party were it to be restored where possible – even were divisions in the centre-right vote desirable, which they aren’t. We know that Michael Gove, Amber Rudd, Nicky Morgan and others made these points at political Cabinet earlier this week.
The catch is that it is very hard to see a workable solution. One Cabinet Minister has told ConservativeHome that the less estranged members of the 21 could be asked “to sign up to a set of principles”. But these would presumably include a No Deal Brexit if necessary. And there is no sign that any of them are willing to do so. The Conservative Manifesto for the coming general election will surely repeat the policy.
Our take is that Boris Johnson wants most of the 21 back, but is unwilling to climb down – and, no less importantly, to be seen to be climbing down. That is understandable. The onus must lie with the 21. All abstained on the Prime Minister’s motion on Wednesday seeking an early general election. Our suggestion to any of them prepared to explore a way back is that they vote with the Government if Johnson has a second go at gaining an election. He is due to do so on Monday. At any rate, it would be a bad thing to lose those of the 21, like Benyon, who have not been hostile to the Johnson Government, and served country, Party and their constituents well.