Just five Tory rebels would be enough to bring down the government in any attempt to stop a no-deal Brexit using a vote of no confidence, a HuffPost UK analysis suggests.
HuffPost UK’s conversations with 14 out of the 15 independents suggested 9 would back a no confidence motion if all other parliamentary avenues fail, while Leave-supporting Labour politicians are unlikely to rebel. The other independents are undecided but unlikely to support the government.
With Change UK now backing a no confidence motion, if all other opposition MPs – apart from the Tories’ DUP partners – toe the party line as they did in a failed attempt in January, that would mean just five Tories would be needed to join 312 opposition MPs in bringing down the government.
The figure could drop to four to deliver a tied vote. That would mean Speaker John Bercow would have to decide if the Liberal Democrats win the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election.
It would almost certainly be a career-ending move for Tory MPs to rebel on a vote of such magnitude.
So far Tory grandee Ken Clarke has made clear he would be willing to take such drastic action, while ex-cabinet minister Dominic Grieve has signalled he is willing to do “everything possible” to stop no deal.
Clarke is widely expected to retire and Grieve is facing potential deselection and so could have little to lose.
A handful of other Tory Remainers such as Phillip Lee, Antoinette Sandbach and Sam Gyimah are also facing potential deselection battles, which means they may also feel more comfortable defying the party.
Chancellor Philip Hammond has also hinted he could vote with Labour to block no deal, while not addressing directly the issue of a confidence vote.
The analysis can only represent a snapshot of MPs’ intentions with many other factors at play, and conversations with independents revealed the anguish involved for many at having to choose between ushering in a Corbyn government or a no-deal Brexit.
One independent MP said: “What is the worst of two evils? Is it a Jeremy Corbyn government or is it a no-deal Brexit?
“I grapple with this on a daily basis.
“I think what just pips it is voting for a vote of no confidence against a no-deal Brexit, it’s very hard.
“I mean, f**king hell, what a decision to have to make.”
Another said: “It is a real dilemma, this is proper devil and the deep blue sea stuff.
“The threat posed to the country by a no-deal Brexit and by Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister are both potentially catastrophic so we’re hoping we don’t get to this point.
“If it takes the deterrent threat of a general election that could put Corbyn in Number 10, that may be what people get behind.”
What is a vote of no confidence?
If the Commons passes a vote of no confidence in the government, and a new government with the support of a majority of MPs cannot be formed within 14 calendar days, parliament is dissolved and an early general election is triggered.
Former Change UK MPs Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston broke cover last week to say they would back a no confidence vote.
And now Chris Williamson, who is currently suspended from Labour over allegations of anti-semitism, and Jared O’Mara, who is likely to quit parliament at the next election, have talked openly about the idea.
Williamson insisted “I’m not an independent MP, I’m a Labour MP, irrespective of the actions of a minuscule proportion of my party”, suggesting he will vote with the party as he did in January.
But ex-Labour MP O’Mara suggested he may only back a no confidence motion if Corbyn tacks towards Remain.
“You may see that I’ve voted no confidence in the government previously and I do indeed have zero faith in any of the two Tory leadership candidates in question,” he said.
“That said, I now also have no confidence that the opposition could help us stay in the EU either. So unless they were to become a fiercely pro-Remain party over night then it’s exactly like voting in a South Park election.
“Kudos to anyone who’s cool enough to get that reference...In that spirit I’d like to add that Boris is a giant douche.”
Another independent who is undecided said a confidence vote would be a “displacement activity”.
“There’s a big question in front of them and they can’t face up to it,” they said.
“And they can’t avoid it by pretending there’s some magical answer.”
Maddy Thimont Jack, a Brexit and parliamentary expert at the Institute for Government, said a no confidence motion would have to be passed immediately after the summer recess to allow time for a general election before October 31.
She acknowledged that a no confidence vote would also create a shorter 14 day window for either Corbyn or a ‘unity candidate’ to try and cobble together a Commons majority and form a government without an election, but stressed this would also be difficult.
Thimont Jack told HuffPost UK: “A vote of no confidence could end up being a final resort for MPs desperate to stop a no deal Brexit.
“The government controls most of the Commons’ time so unless the Speaker decides to get very creative in ways we haven’t seen before, it will be extremely challenging for MPs to find other opportunities this autumn.
“But we’ve never tested the process under the fixed-term parliaments act before so no one really knows what could happen in the fourteen days after MPs vote down a government.
“If someone else – the leader of the Opposition, or a ‘unity candidate’ – wanted to try and win the confidence of MPs, the government does not need to find time for a vote.
“Timing will be really tight to hold a general election before 31 October. MPs will need to be willing to vote down the government as soon as they come back from summer recess.”