Politics Telegraph accused of 'bullying' Tory rebel MPs after labelling them Brexit 'mutineers'

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Pro-Remain Tory MPs are planning to vote against a government amendment to the withdrawal bill.

Ken Clarke play

Ken Clarke

(Neil Hall/Reuters)
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  • 15 Conservative MPs who plan to vote against the government on an amendment to the withdrawal bill have been labelled "mutineers."
  • Pro-Remain MP Anna Soubry calls the Telegraph front page a "blatant piece of bullying."
  • MPs are scrutinising the withdrawal bill and deciding on amendments.
  • Veteran Tory MP says the government's attempt to enshrine the Brexit date in law is "utterly foolish" and "silly."


LONDON — 15 Conservative MPs who plan to vote against the government on an amendment to the withdrawal bill have been branded "mutineers" by The Daily Telegraph in a front page splash that has caused outrage in Westminster.

Senior Conservatives including former chancellor Ken Clarke and former attorney general Dominic Grieve are among the backbench Tories pictured on the Telegraph's front page because they oppose a government amendment.

Veteran MP Clarke labelled the amendment to make the day the UK leaves the European Union binding, making sure that Brexit happens at 11pm on 29 March 2019 "utterly foolish" and "silly."

Pro-remain Conservative MP Anna Soubry, who was also featured on the Telegraph's front page, told MPs the coverage by the newspaper was a "blatant piece of bullying" and she regarded it as a "badge of honour."

Brexit minister Steve Baker, one of the highest profile Eurosceptic MPs, condemned the Telegraph's front page. He tweeted: "I regret any media attempts to divide our party."

The withdrawal bill is at committee stage in the House of Commons, where MPs debate amendments to it and attempt to improve the bill.

It passed at second reading, meaning MPs agree with it in principle, but will now be reshaped to make sure it works and try and make it pass in the House of Lords.

MPs will discuss the bill at committee stage for two days every week for the next month, scrutinising it line by line.

The government comfortably won the first five votes on amendments to the bill with majorities around 20, despite all the main opposition parties voting against them.

Tory rebels criticise government amendment

Tory rebels have indicated they will vote against the government's plan to enshrine the UK's exit date in law, which could cause the amendment to be defeated.

Clarke said: "It is quite unnecessary to actually close down our options as severely as we are with this amendment when we don’t know yet [what will happen in the Brexit talks], when it is perfectly possible that there is a mutually beneficial, European and British, need to keep the negotiations going for a time longer to get them settled."

Grieve said that no amount of "arm twisting" would make him vote for the amendment, which will not be voted on until next month towards the end of the bill's committee stage.

He said: "I have to say I find this amendment by the government so very strange, because it seems to me to fetter the government, to add nothing to the strength of the government’s negotiating position, and in fact potentially to create a very great problem that could be brought back to visit on us at a later stage."

Watch Ken Clarke: "I am the rebel"

Brexiteer Geoffrey Cox seemed to echo this position, telling MPs: "Let us suppose our own negotiators wish an extension, it is curtailing the flexibility and room for manoeuvre of our own negotiators."

Labour's shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said setting a date in law was a "desperate gimmick" that was "about party management, not the national interest".

He said: "The government's amendments to their own Bill would stand in the way of an orderly transition and increase the chance of Britain crashing out of Europe without an agreement."

Former Cabinet Office minister Sir Oliver Letwin told MPs that he would vote with the government on Tuesday night, but the part of the withdrawal bill that deals with retained EU law is a "frightful mess."

He said: "Of course I shall be voting with the government tonight, but I very much hope after this debate - as did not happen after second reading - that the government will go away and think about clause six.

"If it doesn’t what will happen is it will get massacred in the House of Lords - quite rightly."