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.
MPs have rejected Labour’s motion to allocate Commons time to consider banning fracking, in a vote initially designated by the Tory whips as a “confidence motion” in Liz Truss’s government.
Labour’s motion was defeated by 230 votes to 326, majority 96, but the Commons heard there were “very strong rumours” the Government chief whip Wendy Morton had resigned.
This came after allegations of bullying levelled against Government whips, with Labour former minister Chris Bryant saying some MPs had been “physically manhandled into another lobby and being bullied”.
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.— Ian Murray MP (@IanMurrayMP) October 19, 2022
They are done and should call a general election.
Two Tory whips dragging people in. Shocking.
Tory MPs had been issued with a three-line whip on Labour’s motion, meaning that Tory MPs who vote against the government could lose the whip, and subsequently would no longer be able to sit as Conservative MPs.
The vote was an attempt by the Labour party to introduce draft legislation banning the extraction of shale gas.
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.”
The business secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg, had earlier spoke out against the motion in the House of Commons, saying communities will have a “veto” on fracking in their area.
He added that national government would be unable to overrule the objections from communities, with one option under consideration involving local referendums for areas where fracking is proposed.
But Labour’s Shadow Climate Secretary Ed Miliband urged Tory MPs to vote for his parties motion: “I say to the House and I say to members opposite, they all know that the prime minister will be gone in a matter of weeks, if not days, if not hours.
“They know fracking will go with her. Why defend the indefensible?” he said.
Dozens of Tory MPs are known to be fiercely opposed to fracking, including a number of government ministers. But backbenchers and ministers mulling whether to back Labour’s motion were ordered to back the government when Conservative whips initially said the motion would be treated as a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Liz Truss’ administration, with any rebels set to lose the whip.
“This is not a motion on fracking,” deputy chief whip Chris Whittaker wrote in a note to MPs. “This is a confidence motion in the government. We cannot, under any circumstances, let the Labour Party take control of the order paper. We are voting NO and I reiterate, this is a hard three line whip with all slips withdrawn.”
However, the order failed to quell disquiet in Tory ranks over a policy that remains hugely unpopular with the public and amounts to a reversal of the Conservative’s 2019 manifesto.
The rebellion against the government by Tory MPs gained momentum late in the afternoon when former energy minister Chris Skidmore, a staunch defender of the UK’s climate ambitions who has been tasked by the Prime Minister with delivering a review of the UK’s Net Zero Strategy, confirmed on Twitter he would not vote to enable fracking and was prepared to lose the whip if necessary.
“As the former Energy Minister who signed net zero into law, for the sake of our environment and climate, I cannot personally vote tonight to support fracking and undermine the pledges I made at the 2019 General Election,” he said. “I am prepared to face the consequences of my decision.”
As the former Energy Minister who signed Net Zero into law, for the sake of our environment and climate, I cannot personally vote tonight to support fracking and undermine the pledges I made at the 2019 General Election.— Chris Skidmore (@CSkidmoreUK) October 19, 2022
I am prepared to face the consequences of my decision.
Several other MPs publicly confirmed they had reached the same conclusion, prompting the government to hastily reverse previous warnings that the vote amounted to a vote of confidence in Liz Truss’ government.
The chaos in Tory ranks with reports of angry exchanges between whips, ministers, and backbench MPs as they prepared to vote. Both the chief whip and her deputy reportedly resigned.
Ruth Edwards, the Conservative MP for Rushcliffe, said she is against fracking but added: “My final observation tonight is for our own front bench, for they have enabled the opposition to force colleagues to choose between voting against our manifesto and voting to lose the whip.
“They should take a look at the faces of colleagues behind them, colleagues who have fracking sites in their constituencies, and they should hang their heads in shame.
“A Conservative government will always have my confidence, but its leadership today has severely tested my trust and the trust of many colleagues and I would advise them not to do so again.”
The division list showed 40 Conservative MPs did not take part in the fracking vote.
They cannot all be considered to be abstentions, with some likely to have been on Government business.
One of those to have abstained included none other than the Prime Minister Liz Truss.
It is not clear why the PM did not vote.
MP and governmental net-zero tsar Chris Skidmore and Angela Richardson also abstained.
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.
The developments come at the end of yet another day of crisis in Westminster, which included the Prime Minister announcing she would maintain the pensions triple lock guarantee, just days after Chancellor said the government would “not make any commitments” on individual policy announcements, and the sacking of Home Secretary Suella Braverman over a security breach.
It now remains to be seen whether those MPs who failed to vote with the government will now have the whip removed and whether Skidmore will continue to lead the review into the government’s Net Zero Strategy which is expected to be completed before the end of the year.