Tory MP whose amendment led to defeat for Theresa May reports incidents to police, and questions Daily Mail’s reporting of vote
The Conservative MP Dominic Grieve has received death threats after leading a parliamentary rebellion that resulted in the prime minister’s first Commons defeat on Brexit.
The former attorney general, who has reported the most serious incidents to the police, said such threats should have “no part in the political process of a democracy”.
Others among the 11 Conservative politicians who defied a three-line whip in order to secure a vote for MPs on the final Brexit deal have also faced pressure. Antoinette Sandbach said she had also received “oblique” death threats, including phrases such as “you’ll get what’s coming to you”.
The MPs received the backing of the prime minister, with a senior government official insisting that Theresa May felt “no politician should face intimidation or threats”.
It comes as Theresa May’s team is considering how to avert a second parliamentary defeat next week over the question of an amendment enshrining the Brexit date in British law. Moves could be made to compromise over the issue, which has infuriated Tory rebels.
Grieve told the Guardian he was disturbed by the atmosphere that had unfolded since the decision of the group to press the issue of the final deal in parliament.
“The thing that continues to cause me concern is not that people will disagree vigorously with the positions we take, but that the atmosphere is so febrile that it leads firstly to people not listening to what the debate is about, secondly suggests that any questions around Brexit amount to an intention to sabotage and, thirdly, results in some people expressing themselves in terms that at times include death threats,” he said.
Grieve also questioned the response of some newspapers to the vote, including a front-page story in the Daily Mail that claimed 11 Tory “self-consumed malcontents” had betrayed their leader, party and 17.4 million Brexit voters and had increased the “possibility of a Marxist in No 10”.
He added: “The form of reporting that the Daily Mail adopts is an incitement to obscuring what the issues actually are. That then adds to the atmosphere.”
Sandbach also named the newspaper, adding that the front page was now “lining my cat’s litter tray”.
Asked whether fellow MPs had chastised her, she said: “I haven’t had any comeback on it – but I won’t take lectures from people who have rebelled endless times in their careers.”
One terse response to the group came from Nadine Dorries MP, who said her colleagues ought to be deselected. However, others said Dorries had voted against her party on dozens of occasions during previous administrations.
Other Conservative MPs who may have been minded to rebel chose not to, perhaps because of last-minute concessions, or pressure from party whips.
The prime minister made clear that while she was disappointed by the Commons defeat, she was still ready to deliver Brexit, stressing that this one loss followed 35 victories.
However, she could now face another difficult week in the Commons, with some pro-EU backbenchers furious about a government-backed amendment enshrining the date of Brexit into British law.
Sandbach said she expected the government to withdraw this amendment rather than face another potential defeat next week. “I don’t think that vote will go ahead,” she said, adding: “I will not be bullied or threatened. I am elected to represent the interests of my constituents and that means doing the right thing from time to time.”
However, a government official in Brussels insisted that ministers would push ahead with the amendment.
Grieve was not commenting on the potential battle next Thursday but said he was sure the government would be defeated on the measure.
Meanwhile, fellow rebel Stephen Hammond called on ministers and whips to negotiate over the proposal.
The prospect of another Commons reverse will increase the pressure on the chief whip, Julian Smith, following claims from rebels that Wednesday’s defeat could have been prevented if the government had engaged with them.
Grieve told BBC Newsnight on Wednesday : “I hope very much it won’t be necessary because if the government comes back with that date I’m sure the government will be defeated, and I have no desire to defeat the government or be involved in the government’s defeat a second time.”
Hammond told the BBC: “That’s a week to go in negotiations in terms of whether that’s going to be put to the House of Commons and whether it’s really necessary. People will take their view at the time.”
The shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, said the vote on the date amendment was “an accident waiting to happen” and called on the government to drop the “ill-conceived gimmick”.