A day of Conservative chaos in Westminster – how it unfolded

From home secretary’s departure to chief whip going nowhere, we recap another extraordinary day

A couple of weeks ago, to widespread condemnation, Suella Braverman accused backbench Tory MPs of staging a coup against the prime minister; if that was the case, she has become its latest victim.

But the truth is that the mind-bending events of Wednesday in Westminster can’t really be classified as a coup. They were abrupt, unsanctioned, and by evening allegedly featured the use of force, yes. But coups are organised. Coups involve government control of the media. And they have this to be said for them: when they end, somebody, however incompetent, is in charge. This wasn’t a coup: it was a disintegration.

Here’s how it unfolded, blow by excruciating blow.

Dawn: Braverman on patrol

It’s just another day in Suella Braverman’s serene reign as home secretary, and she begins with the sort of thing she’s normally only dreaming about before the sun comes up: a trip to Oxfordshire with the National Crime Agency to arrest a 31-year-old Albanian woman, believed to be responsible for bringing people across the Channel in small boats. While she may view this as Kryptonite to the “Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati” of her florid description on Tuesday, the seeds of her downfall have reportedly already been sown: on Tuesday night, she had a “fiery” 90-minute meeting with Liz Truss and Jeremy Hunt.

8.19am: James Cleverly defends the government

Asked to explain why the government is refusing to confirm that the triple lock protection of pensions remains in place despite Truss’s previous assurances, the foreign secretary tells the BBC that “when we have a fiscal statement … we don’t speculate as to what might be in it” because doing so “might distort markets”. This position lasts until shortly after midday.

Morning? Braverman sends an email

At some point before 4pm, the home secretary forwards a draft statement on immigration to a backbench MP. This will become important.

10.57am: Government makes fracking vote a confidence motion

Labour has secured an evening vote that could allow the opposition to seize control of the parliamentary timetable and force a further vote to stop the government lifting a moratorium on fracking. Shortly before 11am, Sky’s Beth Rigby reports that the deputy chief whip Craig Whittaker has informed MPs that “this is a confidence motion in the government” and they must oppose the motion whatever their beliefs – or see the prime minister forced to resign if the government loses. If they defy the instruction, they will lose the party whip. This will also become important.

Before PMQs: Javid talks to cabinet secretary

According to ITV’s Robert Peston, the former chancellor Sajid Javid, reportedly livid over a briefing to the Sunday Times (£) that Truss views him as “shit”, gives the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, an ultimatum: he wants the person behind the briefing suspended and investigated. If not, he will use the question he has been granted to the prime minister to raise the matter in parliament.

Midday: Prime minister’s questions

Sajid Javid does not ask a question. Truss repeats her apology for her handling of the economy and says “I have made mistakes”. She announces that the triple lock on pensions will be protected, adopting what the foreign secretary said would be a market-distorting position four hours earlier. Some observers conclude that she has survived, beaten expectations, and this is fine.

12.02pm: Adviser suspended

As Javid misses his question, the BBC’s Chris Mason reports that the senior No 10 adviser Jason Stein has been suspended and will face an investigation over the Sunday Times leak.

12.33pm: Truss visit to a British tech firm announced

Lobby journalists are told by the PM’s spokesperson that she will shortly be visiting a company specialising in automotive technology “to hear from the kind of businesses driving UK innovation and growth”.

1.44pm: Truss visit to a British tech firm cancelled

Downing Street tells journalists the visit is off, reports the Guardian’s Aubrey Allegretti. No explanation is given.

1.55pm: Backbencher supports government so he can seek PM’s removal

William Wragg, vice-chair of the 1922 Committee, tells parliament he will not defy the party whips to vote as he wishes on fracking, because if he did his letter of no confidence “would fall and I wish to maintain that letter”. This is a relatively unusual attempt to resolve the back-me-or-sack-me dilemma by doing both.

4.20pm: Braverman goes

One possible reason for the cancelled visit to a UK company specialising in automotive technology is revealed: the Guardian’s Pippa Crerar breaks the astonishing news that Braverman has been forced to resign as home secretary. Grant Shapps, viewed as a key organiser of the rebel backbenchers, quickly emerges as Braverman’s likely successor. (It would have been Javid “if Saj hadn’t humiliated the PM”, a Downing Street source claims, skipping merrily past the question of why on earth he would want it.) After four chancellors in four months, there have now been three home secretaries in six weeks.

4.55pm: Braverman publishes resignation letter

Less of a resignation, more of a comment. Braverman claims she is “choosing to tender her resignation” over a “technical infringement of the rules” by sending the draft statement on immigration to a backbencher. She writes that she has “serious concerns about this government’s commitment to honouring manifesto commitments, such as reducing overall migration numbers”.

She says that “the business of government relies upon people accepting responsibility for their mistakes” and unsubtly contrasts herself with Truss by adding: “I have made a mistake; I accept responsibility; I resign.” She does not promise to support Truss from the backbenches, a convention of ministerial resignations. Aubrey Allegretti parses the letter here.

5.04pm: Rebels “prepared for consequences”

Chris Skidmore, a leading advocate for a robust net zero policy within the Conservative party, tweets that he will not vote to support fracking despite the whips’ instructions. He says he is “prepared to face the consequences of my decision”. Within 10 minutes, two other MPs, Tracey Crouch and Angela Richardson, say they will do the same.

5.31pm: Another version of Braverman’s departure emerges

Lobby journalists are briefed that far from a “technical infringement”, Braverman has revealed highly sensitive information with implications for the Office for Budget Responsibility’s review of the forthcoming fiscal plan. It emerges that a second MP was accidentally copied in. The Daily Telegraph reports that Braverman’s Tuesday night meeting with Truss and Hunt was a “heated face to face row” over her refusal to accept a liberalised migration regime they view as crucial to the OBR’s growth projections.

5.36pm: Hunt speaks to MPs

The Times’ Geri Scott reports that Hunt, following Barack Obama, has told members of the 1922 Committee: “This would be really interesting shit if I wasn’t in the middle of it.”

6.01pm: Grant Shapps’ appointment is announced

Shapps tells reporters outside the Home Office that “regardless of what is happening elsewhere in Westminster” he is “looking forward to getting stuck into the role”. On Monday, he said that what Truss needed to do to stay as PM “is like threading the eye of a needle with the lights off” and she “has an 80% chance of failure”. Jamie Grierson profiles him here.

6.27pm: ‘There is stability’

The schools minister, Jonathan Gullis, tells Sky News: “There is stability. Stability in the sense of the fact that we are making sure we have quickly put Grant Shapps in place.” He adds that Truss, who removed all of Rishi Sunak’s supporters from the cabinet when she became prime minister, “has always made clear that she wants a broad church of the Conservative party … in her government”.

6.51pm: Chaos in the House of Commons

The business minister Graham Stuart creates uproar among open-mouthed Tory backbenchers as the fracking debate ends, appearing to contradict the message they received earlier by saying “obviously this is not a confidence vote”. There are howls of derision from his own side as he tells the backbencher Ruth Edwards that it is a “matter for party managers” whether she will lose the whip if she rebels, creating the prospect of MPs voting without knowing the consequences. The chief whip, Wendy Morton, apparently unaware of the change of plan, can be seen running into the chamber as he continues with his speech.

7pm: Backbenchers ‘manhandled’

Astonishing reports from multiple opposition MPs of what we might call “a little turbulence” in the “no” lobby, including claims that senior Tories “manhandled” reluctant backbenchers to vote. One Tory MP tells the Sun on Sunday’s Kate Ferguson that “it’s like a zoo of hungry wild animals”. The government wins comfortably, by 96 votes.

7.12pm: Chief whip said to have resigned

Reports emerge that Morton has resigned as chief whip, feeling she had been fatally undermined over the fiasco.

7.25pm: Deputy chief whip’s fury

MPs overhear Whittaker, the deputy chief whip who sent them their instructions this morning, come out of the lobby and say: “I am fucking furious and I don’t give a fuck any more.” He is also reported to have resigned.

7.28pm: ‘Bullying’ allegations

Chris Bryant’s photograph of chaos among Conservative MPs waiting to vote.
Chris Bryant’s photograph of chaos among Conservative MPs waiting to vote. Photograph: Chris Bryant/Twitter

The Labour MP Chris Bryant raises a point of order accusing senior Tories of “bullying” backbenchers to vote with the government. He calls for an investigation and provides a photograph of the incident to the Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, who is said to be taking it “very seriously”. In an interview with Sky News, Bryant elaborates, alleging that Jacob Rees-Mogg and Thérèse Coffey were among the group “physically pulling” an MP through the door into the lobby. Rees-Mogg denies this. He says he is “not entirely clear” whether Morton is still chief whip.

7.42pm: Recriminations for Truss supporters

The veteran backbencher Sir Charles Walker appears close to tears in a candid interview with the BBC, in which he describes the situation over Braverman and the fracking vote as “a pitiful reflection on the Conservative party at every level”. Is there any coming back from this? “I don’t think so,” he says. “I really shouldn’t say this, but I hope all those people who put Liz Truss in No 10, I hope it was worth it for the ministerial red box. I hope it was worth it to sit round the cabinet table. Because the damage they have done to our party is extraordinary.” His fellow backbencher Johnny Mercer later retweets it with the comment: “Fuck me, he’s nailed it.”

8.57pm: Truss did not vote

Bloomberg’s Kitty Donaldson reports that after Morton said “that’s it, I’m resigning” in the “no” lobby, Truss grabbed her arm to try to persuade her otherwise – and, in the chaos, neither voted on the motion MPs had been told was a matter of the prime minister’s survival. The Daily Telegraph reports that Boris Johnson missed the vote because he is in the Caribbean.

9.21pm: Chief whip not going

Downing Street tells reporters Morton and Whittaker are not resigning. Downing Street later claims the votes were a confidence motion all along, whatever MPs were told, and those who abstained will face disciplinary action. With cabinet ministers rumoured to be considering a move against her, and some MPs believing more than 100 letters of no confidence have been submitted, many conclude that after a day of spectacular error and recrimination, Truss’s own exit has become an inevitability.

11.25pm: The last word

The veteran backbencher Sir Roger Gale tells PA Media: “On balance, at the end of today, I would say, in a peculiar way – and it is peculiar – Truss might come out of it stronger.” He adds: “I may be completely wrong and out of touch.”


Archie Bland

The GuardianTramp

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