As if the government did not have enough troubles right now, a major row has erupted between the Whips’ Office and Number 10. The whips think that a Number 10 aide was telling ministers they were safe to abstain on the no to no deal motion, when there was a three-line whip to vote against it.
After the amendment ruling out no deal in any circumstances passed, the government decided to whip against its own motion rather than allowing a free vote on it. This irritated a slew of Remain / soft Brexit ministers who wanted to vote against no deal. Sarah Newton resigned as a Minister of State to do so. A handful of Cabinet Ministers — Amber Rudd, David Gauke, Greg Clark, David Mundell and Claire Perry — abstained.
In normal times, abstaining on a three-line whip would see a minister sacked. But these ministers will not be. The word is that they were given the nod by a Number 10 aide that they could abstain and not lose their jobs. This has infuriated the whips who were trying to get them to vote with the government, only to find a deal being done behind their back. I’m told that the whips are furious about this parallel whipping operation.
This is yet another sign of how the normal discipline of government is breaking down. But with the government desperately trying to overturn a 149-vote defeat in the next seven days, having the whips and Number 10 at odds is hardly a recipe for success.