LONDON - Prime Minister Liz Truss’s government issued a stark warning to Conservative MPs not to back an opposition motion on fracking, as party managers struggle to control mutinous lawmakers.
The opposition Labour Party has called on Tory MPs to “put country over party” and back its attempt to ban the extraction of shale gas by forcing the introduction of a draft law to do so.
It’s a clear attempt by Labour to expose divisions in Ms Truss’s ruling Tories at a time when the premier is under intense pressure after being forced to backtrack on the bulk of her economic plans.
Many Tories are opposed to fracking amid local concerns about the earth tremors the drilling can cause, but Ms Truss is determined to develop the industry to tackle rising energy costs.
In recent years the government would let the opposition win a pyrrhic victory when it uses a so-called Opposition Day Debate to force a vote on policy. But on Wednesday party managers took the unusual step of informing Tory MPs that they saw the measure as a confidence vote.
It’s a high-stakes move, because in theory that means if defeated the government would resign because it cannot command a majority.
The fracking debate exposes again the fragility of the support Ms Truss enjoys, despite holding a 70-strong majority in the House of Commons.
“This is not a motion on fracking,” Deputy Chief Whip Craig Whittaker wrote in a message to MPs seen by Bloomberg News.
“This is a confidence motion in the government. We cannot, under any circumstances, let the Labour Party take control of the order paper and put through their own legislation and whatever other bits of legislation they desire.”
The order was met with raised eyebrows from Tory MPs who privately accused party managers of overreacting and ill-judgment.
It comes a day after the whips caved in to allow a free vote on abortion clinic protests.
A Number 10 official insisted any MPs who vote against the government or abstain from the vote will be suspended from the parliamentary party. Instead, Tory MPs are expected to vote for a government amendment that offers a say to local people.
Ms Truss told MPs on Wednesday that her government will set up a consultation to establish a “robust system” of local consent that will also include local government, a further bid to bring Tories round. BLOOMBERG