Tories accused of bullying and manhandling MPs in chaotic vote on fracking

Out of order? Jacob Rees- Mogg and Therese Coffey, circled, last night .

TOP Tories were last night accused of bullying and manhandling their MPs into backing the Government as a crucial vote on fracking descended into chaos.

Deputy PM Therese Coffey and Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg faced claims that they were present when Conservative backbencher Alex Stafford was ‘physically pulled’ into a voting lobby.

There were also allegations of shouting and finger-pointing which left some Tory MPs in tears during turbulent scenes in the Commons after they were ordered to support fracking against their wishes.

In another dramatic twist, Conservative Chief Whip Wendy Morton was said to have quit on the spot after she was undermined by a lastminute change in the terms of the vote by Downing Street, which appeared to mean it was no longer a confidence vote in the Government.

Meanwhile her deputy Craig Whittaker was seen storming out of the lobby and declaring: ‘I am ****ing furious and I don’t give a **** any more.’

Last night it was not even clear if they had resigned – such was the confusion in Government.

Voting records show that 36 Conservatives did not cast their votes including Miss Morton and several serving ministers – even though they had been warned earlier in the day they would be kicked out of the party if they did not toe the line.

Chris Bryant, Labour chairman of the Commons standards committee, told Sky News: ‘There was a bunch of Conservative members obviously completely uncertain whether they were allowed to vote with the Labour or against.

There was a group, including several Cabinet ministers, who were basically shouting at them. At least one member was physically pulled through the door into the voting lobby.

That is completely out of order.

‘I know that Therese Coffey was in the group. I know that Jacob Rees-Mogg was in the group and there were others as well.

The group all moved forward with one member.

It was Alex Stafford. He was, to my mind, physically manhandled into the lobby.’

He said he witnessed ‘ shouting, aggressive pointing and physical pushing’ that constituted bullying by a gang of MPs, but did not see if Miss Coffey or Mr Rees- Mogg were directly involved.

They could both be seen in a photo Mr Bryant posted online of the scene. Sources close to Miss Coffey said she was ‘ encouraging’ MPs into the lobby but ‘absolutely didn’t manhandle anyone’.

Mr Rees-Mogg insisted: ‘I didn’t see any bullying and I saw nobody being manhandled.’ He claimed one female MP was merely ‘affectionately patting someone on the back’.

He also told Sky News that confusion over the terms of the vote arose from a message from No10.

It reached minister Stuart Andrew – who told the fracking debate ‘quite clearly this is not a confidence vote’ – but did not appear to reach the Chief Whip, who had spent the day telling Tories they would lose the whip if they voted with Labour.

Mr Rees-Mogg said: ‘Late in the day, a junior official at 10 Downing Street sent a message through to the front bench that it was not a vote of confidence and nobody else was aware of that.

‘The whips were not aware of that, I was not aware of that and most members thought that it was a vote of confidence.

It was simply one of those unfortunate miscommunications that occasionally happens.’

‘I’ve just witnessed one member in tears’

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle is expected to investigate the claims of bullying outside the voting lobbies after several MPs said they were shocked by what they saw.

The SNP’s David Linden wrote on Twitter: ‘Just watched the Deputy Prime Minister practically pick up a hesitant Tory MP and march him into the Government lobby. ’

Labour’s Anna McMorrin said: ‘I’ve just witnessed one Tory member in tears being manhandled into the lobby to vote against our motion to continue the ban on fracking.’

Fellow Labour MP Ian Murray said it was ‘open warfare’ among the Tories with ‘jostling and Rees-Mogg shouting at his colleagues… whips screaming at Tories’. Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle told Times Radio: ‘What I saw is Jacob Rees-Mogg…standing in the lobby shouting at people.

There were words exchanged. Another member of the Conservative Party was clearly torn on what he was wanting to do. He was in tears at that point.

The whips took him by his arms, [another] one pushed his back, and they manhandled him effectively

through the lobbies while he was distraught.’ The earlier debate had been divisive, with several Conservatives deeply unhappy they were being forced to go against their 2019 manifesto, which pledged to keep the ban on fracking.

The vote was called by Labour to reimpose the ban.

Many said they were only voting with the Government in order to avoid losing the whip.

Conservative MP for Rushcliffe, Ruth Edwards, attacked the Government front bench, saying: ‘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 face of colleagues behind them, colleagues who have fracking sites in their constituencies, and hang their heads in shame.

’ Chris Skidmore, the Prime Minister’s Net Zero tsar, said he would be abstaining.

He added: ‘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,’ In the end Labour’s motion was comfortably defeated, by 230 votes to 326.

MPs were assured they will get a say on the process of consent for new fracking sites and communities will have a veto on plans.

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