Tory rebels have accused Boris Johnson of attempting to destroy the party as they vowed to defy threats of deselection and vote to block a no-deal Brexit.
Former chancellor Philip Hammond accused Downing Street of “rank hypocrisy” and warned of the “fight of a lifetime” if officials attempt to prevent him from standing at the next general election as a Conservative candidate.
He pointed out that most of the cabinet had defied the whip over the past year with no threats of deselection.
And in a massive blow for the Prime Minister his Conservative constituency appeared to back him as they voted to make him their candidate for the next election in defiance of Johnson’s threats.
Dominic Grieve, who served as attorney general in David Cameron’s government, said threats made this week to withdraw the whip from any Tories voting against the Government demonstrated Mr Johnson’s “ruthlessness” in power.
“This is undoubtedly a new ruthlessness on the part of the Prime Minister and I think for a broad church party like the Conservatives I think it bodes ill for us,” he said.
“I simply do not see the Conservative Party surviving in its current form if we continue behaving like this towards each other. This is now becoming a heavily ideological party being led in a way I don’t identify as being conservative at all.”
Their comments were made after colleague Justine Greening, a former education secretary and remainer, launched a blistering attack on the Prime Minister as she announced her resignation from the Commons at the next election.
She said her fears that the Conservative Party was morphing into Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party had “come to pass” and accused the current leadership of “narrowing down” the party’s appeal.
The Putney MP said her party was “narrowing down its appeal” – a move, she suggested, that had been highlighted by the threat this week to long-serving MPs who would have the whip removed if they voted against the Government on Brexit.
Ms Greening said the threat had not worked on her and that she would be voting for legislation this week to force the PM to extend Article 50 rather than take Britain out without a deal.
“A job of an MP for me is to be Putney’s voice in Parliament,” said Ms Greening, who represents a Remain-voting constituency.
“That’s certainly what I have sought to do and I will do that today in making sure we pass this Bill hopefully through Parliament on Wednesday.
“My concerns about the Conservative Party becoming the Brexit Party, in effect, have come to pass and my decision is that if I really want to make a difference on the ground and on social mobility, then I need to do that outside Parliament.”
Ms Greening, Mr Hammond and Mr Grieve all confirmed they would join opposition MPs in voting for legislation designed to delay Britain’s exit from the European Union if no agreement can be struck with the European Union before October 31.
With rebels uniting behind the draft law, which was revealed by Labour MP Hilary Benn on Monday, Mr Johnson could be facing defeat in the Commons.
On Monday, he sought to scare off a rebellion by letting it be known he would push for a snap general election if MPs succeed in their bid to seize control of parliamentary proceedings.
But Mr Hammond, who was re-selected as Tory candidate for Runnymede & Weybridge on Monday night, said: “I will not support a proposal to dissolve Parliament for an election until this bill has completed its passage through Parliament.”
MPs were returning to the Commons after the summer recess with opponents of a no-deal Brexit looking to take control of business in the House to allow them to discuss proposed legislation to block the UK from leaving the EU without an agreement.
Addressing the nation outside Number 10, the Prime Minister on Monday insisted “I don’t want an election, you don’t want an election” but moments later a Government source said any bid to “wreck” the UK’s negotiating position would prompt a motion for an early election.
The source said Mr Johnson would request a general election on October 14 if the motion got the necessary support of two-thirds of MPs under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FTPA).
The source said the motion would be published before MPs vote on Tuesday so they would know the consequences of voting against the Government.
The source said: “I think if you were to have any chance of securing a deal, which the PM has been very clear that he wants the deal, you would want to have that election on October 14 so that you can go to European Council and secure a deal.”
The source said the vote would be treated as though it is a vote of no confidence, and that any Conservative MP voting against the Government could have the whip withdrawn.
But defiant Tory rebels pointed out that Boris Johnson had voted with Jeremy Corbyn to inflict the two biggest parliamentary defeats on a government in British history.
If MPs agree on Tuesday to allow the cross-party group to seize control of Commons business, the legislation to block no deal will be considered the following day.
Under the terms of the European Union (Withdrawal) (no 6) Bill, the Government must seek a delay to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU until January 31 if there is no agreement with Brussels in place by October 19 and Parliament has not approved a no-deal Brexit.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn said Labour will “take the fight to the Tories” in a general election, insisting the party is ready.
Speaking at a rally in Salford on Monday night, Mr Corbyn said: “I am proud to lead our party, I’m proud to take the fight to the Tories and I will be delighted when the election comes. I’m ready for it, you’re ready for it, we’re ready for it, we’ll take the message out there and above all we will win for the people of this country.”
However, Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland secretary Tony Lloyd later appeared to contradict his leader, saying Labour would first push to have legislation passed blocking a no-deal Brexit.
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage predicted Boris Johnson will lose the Commons vote on Tuesday and the country will face a general election in October.