Government ‘can no longer rely on Commons support of 20 Tory MPs’

Cabinet ministers have been warned the Government can no longer rely on the support of 20 Conservative MPs when pushing draft laws through the Commons.

The private warning, from Simon Hart, the Government chief whip, means the Tory majority in the Commons has effectively now been cut to 60.

The figure lifts the lid on the thinking in the Government’s whips’ office as it tries to deliver on the pledges that made in the 2019 general election manifesto. It suggests as few as 30 MPs now need to rebel to force the Government’s hand over controversial legislation.

The low bar explains why Rishi Sunak and his ministers have amended plans in the face of relatively low-key rebellions rather than fight them and test the 80-seat majority secured in 2019.

Mr Hart disclosed the figures during a private meeting of Cabinet ministers at an awayday in Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country residence.

One Cabinet source said Mr Hart had made clear that “there are 20 Conservative MPs that we cannot rely on in votes”, so ministers will have to adjust their strategy.

Many of the 20 are said to be disaffected with Mr Sunak’s leadership and have stopped promising to turn turn out for every vote. The Cabinet source said: “There are MPs who are not turning up and supporting us.”

The private remarks would explain why the Government has folded on a number of controversial issues when its landslide majority suggested it had a chance of winning them.

There was some puzzlement among loyal Conservative MPs earlier this week when Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, issued a rallying call for MPs to unite behind plans to halt illegal crossings of the Channel from France in the face of “formidable forces” she said would seek to stop them.

There were “formidable forces working against us to succeed” in a “highly litigious” area of law, Mrs Braverman told The Telegraph, adding: “There are very, very big challenges that we need to overcome if we want to fix this.”

The Home Office is still expected to introduce the new Illegal Immigration (Offences) Bill, seeking to bring in measures to deter the record numbers of migrants, before MPs recess at the end of next week.

Mr Sunak told Talk TV this week that “stopping the boats and tackling illegal immigration” was “probably the trickiest of all” the targets he has set.

Last month Michelle Donelan, the Culture Secretary, accepted changes to the Online Safety Bill that will make senior managers at tech firms criminally liable for persistent breaches of their duty of care to children.

That was the third time Mr Sunak and his team had caved in following similar revolts from Tory MPs over planning and onshore wind farms, where he also faced the prospect of being defeated in a Commons vote.

A Government source said then that Ms Donelan was “pleased that colleagues will no longer be pushing their amendments to a vote following constructive conversation and work”.