Tonight (Sept. 2) Bury MP Alistair Burt took to the airwaves to speak about what really happened in Britain when prime minister Boris Johnson refused to countenance any attempt to take a no-deal Brexit off the table.
Pained, and ever so slightly angry, Mr Burt refused to accept the prime minister’s insistence that anyone who questions his no-deal hardline is undermining Britain’s negotiating position in Brussels.
Mr Burt, who has spent 50 years in the Conservative Party (he joined the family when he was 15), added that he felt sad to be threatened with expulsion for the simple reason he was doing his job as a member of parliament.
But as a loyal Conservative, he said he wouldn’t seek re-election. He had no ambition to be an independent candidate or even an independent MP. The job of serving in parliament is done, he said. It sounded (this was radio, after all) as if the stiff upper lip was unwavering.
The reality is surely more complicated. Mr Johnson’s threat of withdrawal of the whip from Tory MPs who refuse to back the government over a no-deal Brexit tomorrow is sure to prompt a night of introspection for many. By every account, they are holding firm. They are expected to support legislation on Tuesday (Sept. 3) under Standing Order 24 – a Commons rule, which allows urgent debates to be called. The bill, which has now been published by Labour MP Hilary Benn, would force the PM to request a Brexit delay until January 31, 2020 unless MPs had approved a new deal, or voted in favour of a no deal departure, by October 19.
Tories who might support this are being called “rebels”. They are anything but. They include former ministers, prominent backbenchers and MPs like Mr Burt. Before Mr Johnson’s Sept. 2 statement outside Downing Street, as many as 40 Tory rebels were publicly opposed to a no-deal Brexit.
Bullying may not be the way to persuade them – or Mr Burt. He feels the pain but not the pressure.