Today William Wragg MP made remarks in Parliament in which he undertook to vote in line with a three-line whip on a vote described as a confidence motion in the Government. The reason he gave – for voting such that he expresses confidence in the Government – was, by oblique reference, that he had submitted a letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister to the Chair of the 1922 Committee and wished for it to continue to carry weight in Conservative Party affairs, which it might not should he lose the right to sit as a Conservative by defying the whip.

The threat of losing party membership by defying a three-line whip seems to stem from the Prime Minister, who appoints and directs Government whips. But by announcing his submission of a letter, waiving the famous confidentiality this act enjoys by default, he has made an enemy of the Prime Minister in pretty much the same way as the way her whips are seeking to avoid by issuing a three-line whip – that is, making an expression of no confidence in her Government. Indeed, the Prime Minister now has a direct interest in seeing Wragg out of the Conservatives, as it would be one fewer letter against her in the 1922 Chair's in-tray.

Presumably, Wragg is no fool and there is a reason he knows he can declare his position without losing it instantly. But it's very difficult to find anything about how this actually works. When a Conservative Prime Minister decides Conservative MPs must vote a certain way or be ejected from the party, where does the authority for that decision come from, and why does it not also confer authority to eject for other reasons of disloyalty such as submitting a no-confidence letter?

1 Answer 1


There are two distinct memberships here, which I think the question might be confusing:- membership of the Conservative party, and membership of the Conservative parliamentary party (also referred to as being in receipt of the Conservative whip).

Withdrawal of the whip

William Wragg is referring here to having the whip withdrawn, meaning that an affected MP would no longer be designated as a Conservative MP, but would sit in the House of Commons as an Independent. They would, however, remain a member of the Conservative Party in general. This is pretty much the final disciplinary tool available to the parliamentary party, and the power is wielded by the Chief Whip (or Opposition Chief Whip) in cases of parliamentary discipline - see paragraph 89 of the Conservative Party Constitution.

For the avoidance of doubt but without prejudice to any of the provisions of this Part, matters of Parliamentary discipline (not touching or concerning the ethics and integrity of a Member of Parliament or Peer) shall at all times remain the responsibility of the Chief Whip in the House of Commons or House of Lords, as the case may be.

In practice, as the Chief Whip is appointed by the party leader, the leader has the final say on whether the whip should be withdrawn from an MP or not. It's possible that there is a provision within the rules of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers which states that the whip may be only be withdrawn when members vote against the Government position but as these are not made public it's impossible to tell for sure. It seems overwhelmingly likely that such a provision exists, however.

As noted in the quote above, in the case of questions of ethics and integrity, decisions on whether the whip should be withdrawn from an MP may also be made by the party's Ethics and Integrity Committee.

Expulsion from the party

Removal of party membership is a more drastic penalty - as it implies the withdrawal of the whip in the case of an MP - and cannot be taken by the party leader alone, but rather by the Board of the Conservative Party. In accordance with subparagraph 17.22 of the party constitution:

The Board shall have power to do anything which in its opinion relates to the management and administration of the Party. It shall oversee all activities within the Party and in particular be responsible for:
The suspension of membership or the expulsion from membership of any member whose conduct is in conflict with the purpose, objects and values of the Party as indicated in Part I Article 2 or which is inconsistent with the objects or financial well-being of an Association or the Party or be likely to bring an Association or the Party into disrepute.

The Ethics and Integrity Committee mentioned previously may also make determinations regarding suspension of party membership or expulsion - as it did in the case of Lord Archer in 2000, suspending him for five years.

Local Conservative Associations may also resolve to expel a member from that association (paragraph 54), but these decisions are subject to scrutiny by the Board.

  • Is there any codified compulsion for the Chief Whip to follow these secret rules of the 1922, or is it the kind of convention that survives because the entire party would revolt against any leader trying to stage a coup by breaking it?
    – Will
    Oct 19, 2022 at 18:34
  • 2
    @Will no, not technically - but your assessment is correct that not doing so would almost certainly bring down the leader via the 1922 committee removing them.
    – CDJB
    Oct 19, 2022 at 18:40
  • Much about parliament is governed by convention, and the rules for the parliamentary Conservative party seem particularly fluid and informal. Rules for choosing or removing a leader can apparently be amended at will by the 1922 committee. And MPs can change party at any time. But there are many jobs (some with salaries), and perks that the party leaderships control, so they have that power.
    – Stuart F
    Oct 20, 2022 at 9:20

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