Tory MPs ordered to abstain on Labour votes on Universal Credit cuts and free school meals

Christopher Hope
·2 min read
Britain's Chief Whip Mark Spencer leaves Downing Street in London - REUTERS
Britain's Chief Whip Mark Spencer leaves Downing Street in London - REUTERS

Conservative MPs were last night ordered by the Government's chief whip to boycott two politically charged votes on Universal Credit and free school meals.

Labour has organised debate in the House of Commons Monday on stopping a planned cut to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit in April and free school meals for eligible families during holidays.

Conservative MPs had been told that Monday's vote would be a three line whip, requiring them to vote against the motion with the Government.

However, Mark Spencer, the Chief Whip, said last night he wanted Tory MPs to abstain altogether although whipping arrangements are yet to be decided. He told The Sunday Telegraph: "We won’t be indulging this party political stunt by Labour which will have no statutory impact.

"The last time they did this many female MPs faced harassment, intimidation and even death threats in the aftermath. We are focused on supporting those who need it most through the pandemic, and ensuring no child goes hungry."

The votes - which Labour are now likely to win - have no force in law. A Tory source added: “Opposition Day Debates are non-binding and rather than affecting change they stoke political division.

“Each time Labour pulls these political stunts Conservative MPs are subjected to verbal abuse, social media threats and criminal damage.

“Labour claims it wants to be constructive at this time, if that’s the case it should focus their attention on the national efforts to beat the Coronavirus. We will need to act collectively."

The decision came after 50 Conservative members of the Northern Research Group threatened to abstain rather than vote for a cut in Universal Credit and hand ammunition to Labour at the next general election.

Last week Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow work and pensions secretary, had urged "Conservative MPs to vote with Labour on Monday to protect families’ incomes".

One source at the group claimed that it had forced the Government's hand, saying: "It is first blood to the NRG."

Yesterday Robert Halfon MP, the Tory chairman of the Education select committee, also made clear he could not vote against the cut in a message to Tory MPs.

Separately the Government is facing a defeat on Tuesday when more than 30 Tory MPs are expected to join Labour MPs and expected back a Lords amendment to give British courts a new role in determining if the Uighur people are suffering genocide in China.

Mr Spencer is understood to have held a Zoom meeting for 2019 MPs at 4.30pm yesterday to put pressure on them not to join the rebellion.

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, has been battling to overturn an all party amendment passed in the Lords giving victims of genocide the power to ask the UK high court to determine if genocide is taking place.