For the sake of our environment and climate, I cannot personally vote tonight to support fracking and undermine the pledges I made at the 2019 general election.
Liz Truss's Conservative government has defeated Labour’s bid to ban fracking amid farcical scenes in the House of Commons.
Conservative whips initially stated the vote on whether to allocate Commons time to consider legislation to stop shale gas extraction was being treated as a “confidence motion” in Truss’s embattled government.
But after a series of Tory MPs signalled they would not take part in the vote, climate minister Graham Stuart caused confusion by telling the Commons: “Quite clearly this is not a confidence vote.”
Ed Miliband, the shadow climate and net zero secretary, accused Truss of pursuing a “frack me or sack me strategy” and questioned the strategy of shackling fracking - “one of the most unpopular causes in the country” to Truss's premiership - "the most unpopular cause in the country".
He added: “In normal times such an idiotic idea would have been dismissed out of hand but these are not normal times. But I say to the house and I say to members opposite, they all know that the prime minister will be gone in a matter of weeks, if not days, if not hours.”
Jamie Peters, fracking campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “The fact that Conservative MPs publicly stated that they would vote with Labour is truly extraordinary. There is clearly significant and mounting opposition to fracking across the political spectrum.
“The business secretary’s amendment shows the government is now finally recognising the strength of feeling against fracking and the evident dissatisfaction within its own ranks.
"It shows just how deeply unpopular it is across Westminster, not to mention with the public – not helped by the fact that the government’s plans are devoid of scientific backing.
“Let this be where the fracking story ends. Instead, we must opt for the real solutions that will increase our energy security, lower bills and cut the harmful emissions that cause climate change – insulating our heat-leaking homes and ramping up the production of cheap, popular and clean renewable energy.”
When Conservative MP Ruth Edwards (Rushcliffe) asked the minister to clarify if those Tories who abstain or vote against the motion will lose the party whip, Mr Stuart added: “That is a matter for party managers, and I am not a party manager.”
Labour’s motion was defeated by 230 votes to 326, majority 96, but the Commons heard there were “very strong rumours” the UK Government chief whip Wendy Morton had resigned.
The division list showed more than 30 Conservative MPs had no vote recorded although this does not automatically equate to an abstention – but in many cases will be.
Conservative trade minister Sir James Duddridge said it appeared that his “card did not scan as I walked through the lobby” and he backed the government.
Those known to be abstaining included Chris Skidmore, the Prime Minister’s net-zero tsar.
The Conservative MP for Kingswood tweeted: “As the former energy minister who signed Net Zero into law, for the sake of our environment and climate, I cannot personally vote tonight to support fracking and undermine the pledges I made at the 2019 general election.
“I am prepared to face the consequences of my decision.”
Former minister Tracey Crouch and Tory colleague Angela Richardson (Guildford) both retweeted Mr Skidmore’s comments with the word “ditto”.
Allegations of bullying were also levelled against Government whips, with Labour former minister Chris Bryant saying some MPs had been “physically manhandled into another lobby and being bullied”.
Charles Walker MP, a Tory backbencher, said the handling of the vote was “inexcusable...I think it’s a shambles and a disgrace."
He told the BBC: "I’m livid and I really shouldn’t say this but all those people that put Liz Truss in No 10, I hope it was worth it, it was worth it for the ministerial red box, as it was worth it to sit round the cabinet table, because the damage they have done to our party is extraordinary.”
Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg sought to limit the rebellion by insisting communities will have a “veto” on fracking in their area.
He said national government would be unable to overrule the objections from communities, with one option under consideration involving local referendums for areas where fracking is proposed.
Mr Rees-Mogg, in a message directed at Conservative MPs, told the Commons: “There’s an absolute local consent lock.
“Any process to determine local consent must be run independently and this House will vote on any scheme that we bring forward.”
During the debate, Ms Edwards said the Government frontbench should “hang their heads in shame” as she said the leadership had “severely tested” Tory MPs’ trust by the way they had approached the vote.
Ms Edwards was among several opponents of fracking who criticised Labour’s attempt to take control of the parliamentary schedule in order to move its own proposed legislation.
Tory former minister Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) praised Ms Edwards for her speech, adding: “I endorse every word she has said about how the Government has handled this matter and I share her sense of despair, frustration and infuriation by it.
“But as I find myself saying so frequently at the moment: we are where we are and we have to get on with it.”
Mr Maynard said he would much rather the Government stood by the moratorium on fracking contained in the Conservative Party manifesto although he welcomed commitments from Mr Rees-Mogg to allow a vote on the process for local consent.
Richard Wheeler, Ben Hatton, David Lynch and Sam Blewett are all members of the PA political staff. Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist.