David Gauke has accused Boris Johnson of attempting a “purge” of his own MPs in order to turn the the Conservative Party into a “Brexit party”.
The former justice secretary warned on Monday morning there was a “95% chance” of a no-deal Brexit on October 31 if parliament did not this week act to block it.
A cross-party alliance of MPs are expected to try to seize control of the parliamentary agenda on Tuesday in a bid to stop no-deal.
Speaking top BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, Gauke said the vote would be “very tight” but he believed Downing Street’s plan was to lose and then demand a snap general election.
Gauke said Tory MPs opposed to no-deal had to “dig in” against Dominic Cummings, the PM’s chief adviser, who he suggested was “not even a member of the Conservative Party”.
In an escalation of the war within the Conservative Party, Tory rebels have been put on notice they face losing the whip and being barred from standing for the party if they vote against the government.
With a Tory/DUP Commons majority of just one, withdrawing the whip from rebel MPs would further weaken Johnson’s grip on parliament and make an early general election more likely.
“Its obviously a particularly confrontational approach and, I think, designed frankly to realign the Conservative Party, to transform the Conservative Party very much in the direction of a Brexit Party,” Gauke said.
“I don’t think there seems to be frankly a huge effort to persuade people to support he government this week.
“They seem to be quite prepared for there to be a rebellion and then purge those who support the rebellion from the party.”
He added: “They are almost goading people into voting against the government.”
“Their strategy, to be honest, is to lose this week and then seek a general election having removed those of us who are not against Brexit, not against leaving the EU, but believe we should do so with a deal.”
This morning Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, became the second cabinet minister to suggest Johnson would choose to ignore any law passed by MPs that blocked a no-deal exit.
“We would be looking at what the impact of the legislation would be on the government’s negotiating position,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
Phillip Hammond, one of the leading Tory rebels, yesterday rejected a one-on-one meeting with Johnson scheduled for today after the prime minister pulled out of a meeting with a group backbenchers ahead of tomorrow’s showdown.
Jeremy Corbyn is holding a special meeting of the shadow cabinet in Salford later today to finalise tactics for opposing a no-deal exit.
The Labour leader will say: “We are working with other parties to do everything necessary to pull our country back from the brink.”
And former prime minister Tony Blair is using a speech in London to urge Labour not to support any push by Downing Street for an early general election, but demand a Brexit referendum instead.