In Depth

What is deselection and what will it mean for the next election?

Boris Johnson threatens to kick rebel Tory MPs out of the party

Conservative MPs who try to prevent a no-deal Brexit by voting against the Government are to be sacked and banned from standing for the Tories at the next election.

The decision was made by Boris Johnson and his government whips on Sunday, ahead of a week of crucial Brexit wrangling, reports the BBC.

A source from the Tory whips’ office told the Financial Times: “If they fail to vote with the Government on Tuesday, they will be destroying the Government’s negotiating position and handing control of Parliament to Jeremy Corbyn.

“Any Conservative MP who does this will have the whip withdrawn and will not stand as a Conservative candidate in an election.” 

The threat has triggered widespread outrage, with former Tory MP Nick Boles saying that the deselection plan proves the “hard-right has taken over”.

Former chancellor Philip Hammond has also criticised the “staggeringly hypocritical” move, and pointed out that eight current cabinet members defied the Tory whip earlier this year by voting against Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement. 

Hammond is one of 15 rebel Tory MPs who were set to attend a meeting with Johnson on Monday that was cancelled at the last minute, with the prime minister citing a “diary clash”. A source close to rebel MPs described the snub as “deeply discourteous”.

Meanwhile, former Tory leadership candidate Rory Stewart called for urgent action to prevent a no-deal exit, following Johnson’s announcement last week that Parliament would be suspended, or prorogued, just days after MPs return on Tuesday from the summer recess.

“If we want to stop no-deal, we have to stop it this week,” said Steward.

“I’m proud to be a Conservative, I want to stand as a Conservative in my constituency, but I can’t stand on a no-deal platform,” he added.

Another Tory MP, who was not named, told the FT: “We have gone beyond being swayed by threats or the promise of gongs - people are not going to abandon their principles.”

If Johnson goes through with the threat of deselection, the Conservatives would lose their slim majority of just one seat in the House of Commons.

This would increase the likelihood of an early election, with some at Westminster believing that a return to the polls is “imminent”, says the FT.

What is deselection?

Deselection is when an MP is banned from running for their current party in an upcoming or future election.

Withdrawing the whip from an MP immediately strips them of party affiliation, making them an independent MP. They cannot stand for their former party in any elections while the whip is withdrawn.

MPs can be deselected by the PM and his whips, or by their local party executive.

However, the whip can be reinstated. In December, the Conservative Party restored the whip to two MPs accused of sexual misconduct so that they could take part in a vote of no confidence in Theresa May, according to The Independent.

So has this happened many times?

Withdrawing the whip and deselecting candidates is an option available to all parties and is usually done over disciplinary matters but can also be a tactical move. 

Deselection has been a Labour Party buzzword for a number of years, used as a threat by Corbyn supporters against Labour MPs who have been critical of their leader.

In 2016, during the commons  “coup” against Corbyn, an insider told HuffPost: “We will offer the most radical leadership reform package ever. Reselection, recall, a lock on leadership elections that only members can remove. We will bring it.”

Veteran Conservative politician Lord Heseltine had the whip withdrawn by the House of Lords chief whip after saying he would vote for the Lib Dems in the 2019 European elections, in protest against the Tories’ handling of Brexit.

And Tory MP Anne Marie Morris had the whip temporarily withdrawn in 2017 over her use of the racist expression “n****r in the woodpile” to describe the threat of leaving the EU without a deal.

Labour MP Jared O’ Mara was suspended from his party that same year over claims of sexist and homophobic comments.

Going back further, Liberal Democrat MP David Ward had the whip withdrawn in 2013 over comments critical of Israel and “zionism”.

What will it mean for the next election?

The next election is likely to be a lot sooner if Johnson follows through with his deselection threat.

The Conservative Party saw its majority slashed in 2017, after Theresa May’s decision to call general election in order to strengthen her hand backfired spectacularly.

Johnson could have to sacrifice more than 20 MPs who oppose no-deal, leaving him with a weak minority government.

“A prime minister ready to give up his tiny working majority sounds like a prime minister ready to call an election,” says the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg.

Calling a general election is one of the options being considered by Johnson, but it might not be held before the 31 October Brexit deadline.

The PM could call an election for November, taking the country out of the EU without a deal by default on Halloween.

Regardless of when the vote takes place, MPs deselected by the whips for voting against the Government over Brexit would not be able to stand for election.

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