The Tory rebels on tonight’s motion are in the process of losing the party whip. There were many more than the whips had expected, but this may well be seen by those around Boris Johnson as being a way of getting rid of the sort of MPs who would always be a thorn in the Prime Minister’s flesh. There is little point in having an election to get a majority if that majority turns out to be hollow, with a large group of backbenchers who won’t actually back the government on the key issue of the day.
All this might be true, but the Conservative party tonight is in a state of shock. Many senior MPs who I have spoken to who understand why Johnson has had to take a tough stance on backbenchers seizing control of the order paper are still very upset about the departure of colleagues who they respected and worked with in government in many cases.
Johnson cannot ignore this state of unease in his ranks. I’m told that he pitched up in the Commons tearoom this afternoon and was ‘absolutely charming’, according to one MP who was watching – who is not generally a Boris fan. ‘He’s really good at this stuff. He puts people at ease, not like David Cameron, who ended up having these kind of forced conversations.’ The Prime Minister is going to need to put a lot of colleagues, even loyal ones, at ease over the coming days.