Rebel MP death threats after defeating May

Naming and shaming: The Daily Mail has been a vocal supporter of a hard Brexit.

Should members of Parliament be loyal to their party? This week 11 Conservative MPs scuppered the government’s plans on a key Brexit issue. Their leader has since received death threats.

“Mutiny in the Commons.” “Revenge of the rebels.” “Tory rebellion humiliates PM.”

Reading yesterday’s headlines, you would be forgiven for thinking that there had been a fistfight in Parliament. The truth was not far off. In a dramatic vote on Wednesday, 11 Conservative MPs, nicknamed the Rebel Alliance, helped to vote down the government, disrupting Theresa May’s Brexit plans.

The question was whether MPs should get to vote on whatever Brexit deal May secures. The government had promised that they would get a vote to accept or reject the deal. But Remainers wanted more — the legal right to vote on the details of the deal, not merely approve the final offering.

As the vote approached, the Conservative whips piled pressure on MPs. One MP was reportedly reduced to tears.

And for nothing: the government lost by four votes, embarrassing May just as she left for an EU meeting in Brussels. Leavers were furious. “Proud of yourselves?” the Daily Mail’s front page asked the rebels.

Late yesterday the leader of the rebels, Conservative MP Dominic Grieve, disclosed that he had received death threats and had reported them to police.

In general, party leaders expect their MPs to vote in accordance with party policy in parliamentary debates. They employ whips: members whose job it is to ensure that party MPs fall into line. Yet MPs also have a duty to their constituents who elect them, to the wider country and to their own moral principles. Grieve argues that he was putting his country’s interests before his party’s by voting as he did. Those who vote against their own party risk being barred from promotion.

Contentious debates can trigger big rebellions. The largest revolt in modern history occurred in 2003, when 139 Labour MPs refused to back Tony Blair’s invasion of Iraq.

Rebellions are becoming ever more frequent partly because parties have recently been split by huge issues like coalition and Brexit. But also 24/7 news and social media encourage MPs to make their mark by being opinionated.

Should we welcome the era of the rebel?

Rebels with a cause

No, say some. In elections, people choose a party and a manifesto. If MPs act disloyally, voting against their leaders, they just weaken their party and undermine public trust in politicians. Thanks to Wednesday’s rebels, May now has even less authority in Brussels. Stability must come first in politics – especially in these chaotic times.

Not true, reply others. People elect MPs to do what they think is in the country’s best interest. Parties are broad churches: they are not, and should not, be united on every issue. When there is disagreement, MPs must vote according to their conscience. Proud of themselves? The Rebel Alliance should be.

You Decide

  1. Should MPs get to vote on the deal?
  2. Would Parliament work better if MPs belonged to no party?


  1. Create your own front page reacting to the vote. For inspiration, look at the BBC link in Become An Expert.
  2. MPs have “no job description”, writes Heidi Allen in The Telegraph (see Become An Expert). Come up with a job description that reflects how you see their role.

Some People Say...

“The thing worse than rebellion is the thing that causes rebellion.”

Frederick Douglass

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The government will need Parliament’s approval to a deal with the EU late next year (unless the amendment passed on Wednesday is somehow annulled, which could happen). In total, 309 MPs voted for the amendment: the 11 rebels plus all the opposition parties. The government only managed 305 votes (some abstained). This is the first time Mrs May has lost a vote as prime minister.
What do we not know?
What impact this will have on Brexit. MPs cannot use the vote to block Brexit — only to reject the deal, which would be politically risky. Even if they do so, EU leaders may well refuse to renegotiate, leading to a “no deal” exit. However, the rebels’ victory could embolden Remainers to revolt against other pieces of Brexit law in the coming months, making May’s job much harder.

Word Watch

Rebel Alliance
A jokey reference to Star Wars. The Rebel Alliance is a coalition of pro-democracy fighters who take on the evil Galactic Empire.
EU meeting
The point of the meeting was to give official approval to recent agreements on issues like the divorce bill and citizens’ rights.
In general
On thorny ethical matters, party leaders sometimes allow a “free vote”, in which their MPs are not pressured to vote in any way.
139 Labour MPs
Blair’s government still won, as the opposition voted with it.
Between 2010 and 2015, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats governed together, making for a very ideologically diverse administration.
Barred from promotion
One of the 11 rebels, Stephen Hammond, was sacked as the party’s deputy chairman after the vote. Being rebellious does not always end your chances of promotion, however. David Davis, the Brexit secretary, rebelled very often before entering the cabinet.
Most rebellious
In Labour’s 13-year government (1997-2010), Corbyn defied the whips a whopping 428 times.


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