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Monday, Feb 06, 2023

Chaos among Tory MPs as Labour motion to force vote on fracking bill is defeated

Chaos among Tory MPs as Labour motion to force vote on fracking bill is defeated

Politicians have claimed Conservative MPs were being 'manhandled' and 'bullied' into voting with the government to oppose a ban on fracking, counter to what the party's manifesto said in 2019.

A Labour motion that would have forced a vote on a bill to ban fracking has been defeated amid farcical scenes in the House of Commons.

Politicians have claimed Conservative MPs were being "manhandled" and bullied into voting with the government to oppose a ban, counter to what their party manifesto said in 2019.

Tory whips initially stated the vote on whether to allocate Commons time to consider legislation to stop shale gas extraction was being treated as a "confidence motion" in Liz Truss's embattled government.

But after a series of Tory MPs signalled they would not take part in the vote, climate minister Graham Stuart caused confusion by telling the Commons: "Quite clearly this is not a confidence vote."

To add to the confusion, there had been suggestions that the government's chief whip Wendy Morton had resigned, along with her deputy, Craig Whittaker.

But Number 10 later stated that both remained in their posts.

Meanwhile the division list showed 40 Conservative MPs did not take part in the fracking vote at all.

No votes were recorded for several senior Tories including Boris Johnson, Nadine Dorries, David Davis, Greg Clark, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Kwasi Kwarteng, Theresa May, Wendy Morton, Alok Sharma, Priti Patel and Ben Wallace.

This is despite a three-line whip and all Tories being told they must vote in favour of the government.

Speaking to Sky News, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the business secretary, played down allegations made by Labour MP Chris Bryant that some Conservative MPs shouted at and "manhandled" others in the voting lobbies to get them to vote with the government.

He said he did not see any bullying or physical contact "beyond a female affectionately patting someone on the back" - though "one member used an expletive".

And he suggested that a junior official in Downing Street "erroneously" said Labour's fracking motion was no longer a confidence vote - leading to it subsequently being said by Mr Stuart in the Commons.

Describing the chaotic scenes, Mr Bryant told Sky News that one Conservative MP, Alexander Stafford, was "manhandled" and "bullied".

He said: "There was a bunch of Conservative members who were completely uncertain about whether they were allowed to vote with the Labour motion because of what had been said in the chamber about whether it's a free vote or a confidence vote.

"There was a group - including several cabinet ministers - who were basically shouting at them. At least one member was physically pulled through the door into the voting lobby."

'I have never seen anything like it'


He claimed Jacob Rees-Mogg and Theresa Coffey, the deputy prime minister, were among the group that "moved forward with that one member" into the voting lobby.

Mr Bryant said the behaviour seen in the lobby tonight was "completely out of order" and he had "never seen anything like that".

He said he took a photo of the moment, which he will be handing to the chief whip as evidence.

"What is not fine is shouting in the division lobby, aggressing pointing and physical pushing," he said.

A source close to deputy PM Therese Coffey has told Sky News she has "not manhandled anybody".

Responding to the claims, Mr Stafford also tweeted: "Lots of rumours flying around tonight.

"This vote was never about fracking but about Labour trying to destabilise the country, and take control of parliament.

"I had a frank and robust conversation outside the voting lobbies confirming my opposition to fracking with members of the government, nothing more, reconfirming my position which I spoke about in the chamber this evening."

'Tories in open warfare'


Several MPs claimed to have witnessed chaotic scenes ahead of the vote.

Labour frontbencher Ian Murray said: "I've never seen scenes like it at the entrance to a voting lobby. Tories on open warfare. Jostling and Rees Mogg shouting at his colleagues. Whips screaming at Tories. They are done and should call a general election. Two Tory whips dragging people in. Shocking."

Fellow Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle added: "Just seen Tory whips manhandling a crying Tory MP into their lobby for fracking. You couldn't make this toxic stuff up, nasty to see the Tories at work, if this is how they treat their MPs spare a thought for the country."

And Jess Philips said: "Massive Tory row going on in the lobby, literally trying to force people through. Lots of anger."


230 MPs voted in favour of the motion, while 326 were against it, a government majority of 96.

Ahead of the Commons showdown, many Conservative MPs expressed disquiet about Ms Truss's plan to return to fracking where there is "local consent".

Chris Skidmore, the MP and governmental net-zero tsar, said he would not be voting with the government and was "prepared to face the consequences of my decision".

A moratorium on fracking was imposed in 2019 after a series of tremors, and the Tory manifesto that year said they would not support it "unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely".

A government-commissioned report by the British Geological Survey (BGS) at the time suggested more data was needed, but despite the lack of scientific progress, Ms Truss's administration has torn up the commitment.

'No way back for Conservative Party'


The dramatic scenes come as Ms Truss fights for her political survival following the sacking of chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng last Friday and the axing of the majority of the government's mini-budget on Monday by new chancellor Jeremy Hunt.

The turmoil continued on Wednesday as the now former home secretary Suella Braverman announced her shock resignation and took aim at the PM in her departure letter.

Conservative MP Sir Charles Walker, who has already called for Ms Truss to go, said he fears there is no way back for the parliamentary party after events of recent weeks.

He hit out at the "talentless people" who "put Liz Truss in No 10", adding: "I hope it was worth it.

"I hope it was worth it for the ministerial red box, I hope it was worth it to sit around the cabinet table."

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