It’s no secret that the Conservative Party has been at war with itself over EU membership for decades. But the blue-on-blue battles stepped up a notch this weekend after it emerged that Boris Johnson is set to boot MPs out of the party if they vote to block a no-deal Brexit in parliament this week.
With plans afoot among opposition MPs – and some Tory MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit – to seize control of the parliamentary agenda and introduce legislation to block a no-deal, Conservative MPs have reportedly been warned they will be expelled from the party and deselected in the next General Election if they back the bill.
It’s a serious warning to MPs by Johnson – with a General Election expected on the cards in the next few months, it could leave them without a job in the very near future.
Not only that, but with the government currently hanging onto a majority of just one, the move means that if a single MP votes to block a no-deal Brexit, the party will go into a minority government.
But while Johnson is taking a very strict stance on Conservative discipline as prime minister, he’s not always been as enthusiastic about taking the party line himself – here are some of the times Johnson rebelled against the Conservative leadership as an MP.
Theresa May’s Infamous Brexit Deal Defeat
As prime minister, Johnson is clearly *very* keen for Tory MPs to fall into line over Brexit. But as a backbencher, he was much more relaxed about these things, taking part in the biggest ever Tory rebellion in parliament.
Johnson was one of 118 Conservative MPs who voted against Theresa May’s Brexit deal in the first meaningful vote in January, contributing to her 230 vote defeat – the biggest loss in parliamentary history.
Johnson went on to contribute to the drubbing May then received in March, when her Brexit deal returned to the Commons, only to be defeated by 149 votes.
The Repeal Of Section 28
Back in 2003, one of the biggest issues splitting the Conservative Party was whether Section 28 – a notoriously homophobic piece of legislation which banned the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools – should be repealed.
Johnson was among Tory 23 MPs who voted against an attempt by Conservatives – including then-leader Iain Duncan Smith – to stop the law being scrapped.
While Tory MPs were given a free vote on the issue – meaning they were allowed to vote with their conscience – it was a moment when Johnson showed himself willing to voice his opinions in the Commons, even if they did not match those of the leadership.
While Johnson was happy to go against the Tory leadership as a backbencher, he clearly found it more difficult as a cabinet minister – especially over the sticky issue of the expansion of Heathrow Airport.
When he was elected as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, he famously told his constituents: “I will lie down with you in front of those bulldozers and stop the building, stop the construction of that third runway.”
However, when the issue came to the Commons last June, Johnson was nowhere to be seen.
Forced to decide whether to stand with his constituents, rebelling against the government stance and likely losing his job as foreign secretary, or to follow the party line, Johnson… went on a one day trip to Afghanistan.
He faced significant criticism for choosing to go to Kabul on the day of the crunch vote while Tory MP Greg Hands resigned as trade minister in order to vote against the government. It was later revealed that the trip cost the taxpayer almost £20,000.
It’s yet to be seen how many Tory MPs will be needed on urgent trips to the Middle East on Tuesday if legislation to block a no-deal Brexit is introduced in the Commons…