WhatsApp 100 plot: what are Brexiteer MPs up to?

Tory Eurosceptics in show of strength in attempt to foil Theresa May’s Brexit plan

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Jacob Rees-Mogg is leading Brexiteers’ efforts to make Theresa May change her mind
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Theresa May is facing a show of strength by her party’s Brexiteer wing this evening over her plans for exiting the European Union.

Amid what Sky News describes as “an escalating crisis for the Prime Minister”, MPs will vote on a series of amendments to the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill proposed by Tory Brexiteers.

The amendments are the first flashpoint for the PM following the news that more than 100 Eurosceptic Tory MPs are now in a WhatsApp group - dubbed the WhatsApp 100 - “co-ordinated by former Brexit minister Steve Baker who is giving them voting instructions”, says The Daily Telegraph.

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Leading Tory backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group, proposed the amendments to the legislation “which have little chance of passing, but are intended as a show of the Eurosceptic group’s strength”, says Bloomberg.

“The Government unfortunately believes that Brexit is not a good thing in itself,” Rees-Mogg told the BBC’s Sunday Politics, declining to comment on how many lawmakers he expected to vote for his amendments. “It seems to think it has to be tempered with non-Brexit.”

What do the WhatsApp 100 want?

The hope among the Eurosceptics is that “their antics will force May to change course or risk a no-confidence vote before the summer recess”, says The Spectator’s Katy Balls.

One senior Eurosceptic source told the Telegraph the group would now start to give instructions to Tory MPs about how to vote, circumventing party whips.

Another source said: “If she wants to start a civil war in the Conservative party, this is what is going to happen.”

What will happen with the amendments?

As Labour has said it will not vote for amendments it is very unlikely to pass, but the size of the Brexiteer rebellion “will give a firm indication of how many Tory MPs are prepared to stick their heads above the parapet and vote against the PM’s Chequers deal”, causing headaches for May further down the line, says Politico’s Jack Blanchard.

But the most pressing concern for the Government is the final vote on the bill’s third reading when Labour MPs are certain to vote against it. At that point “the PM’s majority will be dangerously slim, meaning defeating the Government is actually within the Brexiteers’ grasp”, adds Blanchard.

The votes may also cause more government resignations, of which there have now been nine. The latest came from the parliamentary private secretary at the treasury, Scott Mann.

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What will the PM do?

May is prepared to make concessions on some of the less contentious aspects of the amendments, according to The Sun.

But there was little sign over the weekend that she was preparing to cave in to Brexiteers’ demands. Instead, in an article for the Mail on Sunday she called on voters and lawmakers to get behind her plan or “risk ending up with no Brexit at all”.

“I am not going to Brussels to compromise our national interest,” May wrote. “I am going to fight for it. I am going to fight for our Brexit deal - because it is the right deal for Britain.”

In the event of a no confidence vote, it is believed Downing Street is fairly confident that May would survive it. In fact, “there’s even been talk of trying to bring one about sooner rather than later - while they have the numbers - as if May survives it, the rebels would have to wait a year to mount another”, says the Spectator’s Balls.

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