Government makes fracking ban vote test of Tory loyaltyon October 19, 2022 at 3:14 pm

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Tory MPs are told to oppose a move to ban fracking in a vote to demonstrate Liz Truss’s authority.

A fracking siteImage source, PA Media

Tory MPs have been ordered to oppose a Labour move to ban fracking to demonstrate their loyalty to Liz Truss.

Labour wants to use a vote in Parliament on Wednesday afternoon to force the introduction of a draft law to ban the extraction of shale gas.

But the government has told Tory MPs they must vote against Labour, saying “we simply cannot allow this”.

The BBC has seen a message sent to Tory MPs – telling them: “This is a confidence motion in the government.”

A number of Conservative MPs oppose fracking, but they have been told they must support the government or face being expelled from the parliamentary party.

Ms Truss’s press secretary has said the prime minister would not resign even if the government loses Wednesday’s vote on fracking.

That is because Labour’s motion does not amount to a formal vote of no confidence in the government.

Fracking was halted in 2019 following opposition from environmentalists and local concerns over earth tremors linked to the practice.

But last month, the UK government ended the fracking ban in England as part of its plan to limit rising energy costs.

Now Labour says it wants to give MPs a chance to overturn the decision, which broke a 2019 Tory manifesto promise. It will be voted on at 19:00 BST in Parliament.

Some MPs for the Scottish National Party – which opposes fracking – have told the BBC they will take part in the vote.

If Labour’s motion is approved, a bill to ban fracking would be given priority to be debated and voted on in Parliament.

In a message to Tory MPs, deputy chief whip Craig Whittaker said the government “cannot, under any circumstances, let the Labour Party take control of the order paper and put through their own legislation”.

He said the party was voting “no” on Labour’s motion, enforcing what’s known as a three-line whip.

“I know this is difficult for some colleagues, but we simply cannot allow this. Please speak with your whip with any issues,” the message from Mr Whittaker reads.

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The government hopes the Conservative MPs who oppose fracking will back down.

Meanwhile, Labour believes the government is walking into a trap. They want to make this a big dividing line, and have adverts ready attacking each MP who votes against a fracking ban.

One Conservative MP has told the BBC that many will be very unhappy about voting with the government on this issue.

Last week, some Tory MPs told the BBC they were talking to opposition parties about ways they could block the government’s fracking plans.

One Labour source said MPs in areas impacted by fracking “will have to consider their constituents before they troop through the lobbies”.

Shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband said the motion gave Tory MPs a “simple choice” between banning fracking and allowing the government to “impose” the activity on communities.

When lifting the ban on fracking last month, the government said the practice would resume only where there was local consent, but did not say how this would be sought.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Liz Truss said the government “will consult on the robust system of local consent” and “give clear advice on seismic limits” before any fracking goes ahead.

The prime minister said Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg “will be saying more about this later today”.

The Liberal Democrats have urged Tory MPs to “show some backbone” by voting for a ban.

“Conservative MPs will not be forgiven if they give the go-ahead to fracking our countryside for more expensive gas instead of backing renewables,” said the party’s climate change spokesperson Wera Hobhouse.

A no-confidence vote is usually tabled by the opposition and if the government loses, the prime minister will be expected to resign or ask the King to dissolve Parliament, triggering a general election.

The Tory whips have described Wednesday’s vote as “a confidence motion”, but the government has the final say over how to respond to a defeat.

Nevertheless, defeat for the government would have political consequences. For example, Tory MPs who do not vote with the government on this motion have been warned they will no longer remain in the parliamentary party.

This could stir up discontent at a time when Ms Truss is trying to shore up her authority.

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