As published in the Telegraph:
Government whips have been accused of resorting to “bullying” and “veiled threats” in an attempt to avoid an embarrassing House of Commons defeat over the Trade Bill.
Conservative rebels are attempting to force through an amendment which would allow the courts to block future trade deals with countries deemed to be involved in genocide.
The amendment is being driven in part by Tory MPs horrified by China’s treatment of the Uighur people and who hope to use trade to force Beijing to change its approach.
Numerous Conservative MPs planning to vote for the amendment have been taken aback by the intensity of the whipping operation from the Government, which opposes the move.
One told The Telegraph that newly-elected Tory MPs were being warned their political careers would be over if they rebelled during a blitz of calls from the whips over the weekend.
“They have been very heavy handed. Lots of bullying, cajoling, veiled threats being passed along,” the MP said about the behaviour of the whips.
Another told this paper the approach by the whips had been “pretty tough”, adding: “It hasn’t been easy for colleagues.”
A third Tory MP said the whips – MPs who are assigned to monitor groups of their colleagues to ensure party leadership positions are being supported – had been heavy-handed.
The alleged intensity of the whipping operation reflected the seriousness with which the rebellion is being taken by the Tory Party machine inside the Commons.
Cabinet ministers have also been involved in attempting to warn off potential rebels, with Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, making calls over the weekend.
A fourth Tory MP said: “The Foreign Secretary does not ring backbenchers at home on a Sunday afternoon unless the Government is really, really worried.”
Boris Johnson’s majority in the Commons is 80 seats. It remains unclear if enough Tory MPs will rebel to pass the amendment, with the result hanging in the balance.
Dozens of Tory MPs are expected to back the rebel amendment.
Tories pushing the amendment said they expected a vote to take place on Tuesday but said there was still time for unexpected Government action that could impact the timings.
Government figures have been rallying support behind a separate amendment that would see a parliamentary committee report on whether a proposed trade partner is committing genocide.
But Tory rebels have insisted that parliamentary committees already have such powers and noted that such a recommendation could ultimately be ignored by the Government.
The row reflects tension between backbench Tory MPs who take a hostile stance to China as it grows as a world power, and the Government which at times has been more open to Beijing.
David Davis, the Tory MP for Haltemprice and Howden and former Brexit secretary, confirmed that he would disobey his party and vote for the amendment.
Mr Davis told The Telegraph: “This is a trade and foreign policy issue. The rest of the world will expect the Brits to behave ethically and morally.”
“That will be much more viable if it is based on a court judgement and not a committee where the party of Government has a majority of seats.”
A source close to the Government whips declined to comment.