Tobias Ellwood has Tory whip suspended again after leadership vote reprieve

Without the party's whip, Ellwood would have been unable to vote in the Tory leadership race

Tobias Ellwood, the British Conservative Party MP for Bournemouth East. AP
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The Conservatives have again withdrawn the party's whip from senior MP Tobias Ellwood after he was temporarily handed it back so he could cast his final vote in the Conservative leadership contest.

The chair of the Commons defence committee had the whip removed by Boris Johnson after he failed to vote for the government in a confidence vote.

But without the whip, Mr Ellwood lost the right to vote in the leadership race, raising questions of fairness as the departing prime minister acted against one of Penny Mordaunt’s supporters.

Mr Ellwood was handed it back so he could take part in the final round of voting in Westminster, before a whips’ office spokeswoman said on Wednesday evening: “Tobias Ellwood MP has had the Conservative whip suspended.”

Ms Mordaunt was eliminated from the race when she came third behind former chancellor Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary who has the support of Mr Johnson’s loyalists.

Mr Ellwood, a former minister, had said he was unable to make it to the crucial vote as he struggled to travel back from a meeting with the president of Moldova.

But on Wednesday afternoon, as voting in the ballot of Tory MPs got under way in Westminster, he tweeted: “Delighted to report my request for a momentary return of the whip has been granted – just long enough for my proxy vote to be cast.”

The decision to strip the Bournemouth East MP of the party whip had prompted suggestions, rejected outright by allies of the prime minister, that Mr Johnson was trying to boost Ms Truss’s campaign for No 10.

“From the start of the leadership contest the whips’ office took a neutral position," the whips’ spokeswoman had said.

“After Tobias Ellwood MP failed to attend an important vote he had the Conservative Party whip suspended.

“To ensure that the whips’ office neutrality in the leadership contest cannot be questioned, the whip has been temporarily unsuspended from Tobias Ellwood MP.

“Upon the conclusion of today’s leadership contest, Tobias Ellwood MP will have the whip suspended.”

Mr Ellwood had earlier said that recent weeks had been a “sad chapter” in the history of the Conservatives, warning that the party had “lost our way”.

He told Sky News that he deeply regretted losing the whip, but said he did not ignore the whip’s office and kept the party informed of his movements.

“There are a few options to get back but there were problems with travel in the UK,” Mr Ellwood said.

“I am very sorry I didn’t make it back.”

He said he did not want to speculate about the reasons why he specifically lost the whip.

“I’d be then fuelling the blue-on-blue [attacks], which I’m actually trying to avoid," Mr Ellwood said.

“Let’s focus on how we can move forward and make sure that we conclude this leadership campaign to the highest professional standard that I think the British people want to see.”

Government minister Simon Clarke defended the decision, calling Mr Ellwood’s actions a “very serious mistake”.

“He was in Moldova, rather than Ukraine," Mr Clarke said. "He was not on government work, he is a backbench MP."

He suggested that Mr Ellwood knew the consequences of missing the vote.

“Look, I’m not a member of the whip’s office," Mr Clarke told Sky News.

“What I will say is that there are clear arrangements in place that all MPs understand, which govern the conditions for absence from votes, most especially critical votes like a motion of confidence in the government, which has the potential to trigger a general election."

Updated: July 20, 2022, 10:21 PM