Pro-Brexit campaigners will tonight try to claim their first Cabinet ‘scalp’ in the battle to oust moderate Remainer Tory MPs from the Conservative Party.
David Gauke, the Justice Secretary, is facing a motion of no confidence in his South West Hertfordshire seat as Eurosceptic Tory members try to force him out of a seat which voted 54-46 in favour of Remain in 2016.
The Cabinet Minister has been accused of willfully obstructing the implementation of Brexit despite having voted for Theresa May’s deal all three times it has been put to MPs.
Mr Gauke responded to the move by warning that the Conservative Party must not become a ‘narrow sect’ as he said it was at its best when it was a ‘broad church’.
The move to get rid of Mr Gauke has prompted widespread outcry among senior figures in the party.
Amber Rudd, the Work and Pensions Secretary, said it was ‘ludicrous’ while Tom Tugendhat, the Tory chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said it was ‘ridiculous’.
Should Brexiteer activists succeed in passing a motion of no confidence at tonight’s meeting it would have no binding impact on Mr Gauke but it would put him under pressure to consider whether he could stand as the Tory candidate at a future general election.
The Leave.EU campaign group which played a prominent role during the 2016 EU referendum in the battle for Brexit has been urging Tory activists to mobilise against Conservative MPs who voted Remain.
The group said ‘now is the time to make the Conservative party conservative again’.
David Gauke, pictured leaving Downing Street after a Cabinet meeting on June 25, has warned the Conservative Party it must remain a ‘broad church’ if it wants to win future general elections
The Leave.EU campaign group is rallying Eurosceptic Tory activists in a bid to oust Remain-backing MPs
Mr Gauke told the Evening Standard: ‘For the Conservative Party to succeed it must be a broad church and have wide appeal.
‘There’s a risk, instead, that we become a narrow sect and out of touch with the voters we need to win a majority.’
Mr Gauke’s constituency voted 54 per cent to Remain and 46 per cent to Leave in the 2016 referendum.
Ms Rudd gave her full support to Mr Gauke as she tweeted today: ‘Tonight’s motion of no confidence in David Gauke is ludicrous.
‘Rounding on colleagues in this way is the type of behaviour you’d expect from the hard left.
‘He has my full support, and I hope this is shared by Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson.’
Mr Gauke retweeted Mr Tugendhat who said: ‘This is ridiculous. David Gauke has voted three times for a government policy to leave the EU, some others haven’t.
‘How can he be up for deselection for following government policy and the instruction of 2016.’
The Leave.EU campaign group has characterised tonight’s vote as an attempt to ‘deselect’ Mr Gauke but there is no such mechanism within the party’s rule book.
James Cleverly, the Brexit minister and former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, said: ‘There is no deselection mechanism in the party. We have had these Leave EU stories amplified by the press for months and no Conservative MP has been deselected.
‘David Gauke is a great MP and a huge asset to our party.’
Leave.EU said it hoped to ‘claim our first Cabinet scalp’ with tonight’s vote and ‘with a new leader and potential election, now is the time to make the Conservative party conservative again’.
Amber Rudd was one of many senior Tories to give Mr Gauke their support ahead of tonight’s vote
James Cleverly, the Brexit Minister, told pro-Leave activists there is not a mechanism within the Conservative Party rule book to ‘deselect’ Tory MPs
The group also told Tory MPs who are angry about the attempts to get rid of Remain-backing MPs to ‘deal with it’.
The group tweeted: ‘Long-standing Conservative members are having their say on three years of failure to deliver on the referendum result – deal with it!’
Mr Gauke is not the first Tory MP to face a push to get rid of him amid claims that the Conservative Party has has been flooded by former Ukip supporters joining as members.
Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general and ardent Europhile, lost a confidence vote in his Beaconsfield copnstituency earlier this year.
He has been told he must apply in writing to his local Conservative association if he wants to be the party’s candidate at the next general election.
Mr Grieve has said he has every intention of being the Tory candidate in the seat he has represented since 1997.