After Theresa May's defeat on her Brexit deal, Labour tabled a motion of no confidence. The government could have lost the vote if either DUP MPs and/or ERG/Brexiteers (these being from the Conservative Party) had voted against the government. The latter would imply MPs from the government's own party voting against it.

Is there a precedent in the UK Parliament of this? Have MPs ever voted against their own party's government in a motion of no confidence?

There seem to exist precedents in other countries (where the vote is called by a governing party's own MPs).

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    It’s common for governments to be defeated when the “confidence and supply” party (i.e. DUP in the current gov.) votes against it. But it’s quite rare for party members to vote against their government.
    – Panda
    Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 13:59
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    I can’t find examples in recent votes at the moment, but it probably has occurred before, especially in the earlier days.
    – Panda
    Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 14:18
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    Prior to the fixed term parliaments act any piece of primary legislation would have been considered a confidence vote specific votes were often unnecessary.
    – Jontia
    Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 15:40
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    @Jontia: depends what you mean by "primary legislation". Generally, a government would say if they regarded a vote as a confidence issue, though certain things (budget, Queen's speech) were automatically regarded as such. See Wikipedia article on the subject. Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 17:27
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    @Abigail Alfred Broughton abstained as he was on his death bed, rather than as a political move. He was willing to travel for the vote, against advice from doctors, but Callaghan considered it obscene to ask him to. He died shorty after the vote.
    – James
    Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 16:28

2 Answers 2


The House of Commons has published a Briefing Paper which contains a list of confidence motions since 1945.

The most recent of these confidence motions in which an MP voted against their own party's government, as far as I'm aware, occurred on February 17th 1972, in opposition to the European Communities Bill.

During the debate, then Prime Minister, Ted Heath, stated that the government would treat the vote on the bill as an issue of confidence:

I must tell the House that my colleagues and I are of one mind that the Government cannot abdicate their responsibilities in this matter. Therefore, if this House will not agree to the Second Reading of the Bill tonight and so refuses to give legislative effect to its own decision of principle, taken by a vast majority less than four months ago, my colleagues and I are unanimous that in these circumstances this Parliament cannot sensibly continue. I urge hon. Members to implement the clear decision of principle taken on 28th October last and to cast their votes for the Second Reading of this Bill.

Despite this, in the 309-301 division on the bill, then Conservative MP Enoch Powell led a group of 14 other Tory MPs in voting against it. They did not have the whip removed for this, but Powell did dramatically leave the party five days before the 1974 General Election, going on to successfully contest his seat as a member of the Ulster Unionist Party.


There were conservatives among those who supported the vote of no confidence against Winston Churchill during WWII: they were from his own party, but he was leading a National Government, a term which meant a broad coalition of more or less equal parties and no recognised opposition.

Some of those listed as against him were put there by him (he had a proxy put the vote because he was confident he would win), but his main opposition was coming from the conservative right.

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    Can you provide a reference for that? If so, please edit it into your answer.
    – JJJ
    Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 13:04
  • It's described in his 5-volume memoir of WWII, I'll add it when I next have access to a copy to get the page number. Commented Apr 17, 2019 at 0:16

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