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Amber Rudd has warned that moderates are being purged from mainstream parties in a move that could cost the Tories a majority at the next election.
She told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show her decision to suddenly quit as work and pensions secretary on Saturday was influenced by the sacking of 21 Tory rebels, who she described as “good moderate Conservatives”.
The Hastings & Rye MP said she had taken the added step of quitting the party to “make the point that the Conservative Party should be a moderate party which accepts people with different views on the EU”.
But allies of Boris Johnson defended the move, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisting the former London mayor was “right to restore some discipline”.
Mr Johnson last week sacked a slew of senior members of his own party, many of them having served in top Government jobs – including former chancellors Ken Clarke and Philip Hammond, and Winston Churchill’s grandson Sir Nicholas Soames – after they supported opposition moves to block a no-deal Brexit.
Ms Rudd said she confronted the Tory leader “several times” in meetings over the past week to raise concerns about the direction of the party but chose to resign after failing to change his mind.
“It’s not just 21 individuals, it’s a big symbol that the Conservative Party doesn’t embrace moderate people,” she said.
“Ken Clarke, Philip Hammond, these great Conservatives. I kept on arguing against it, but I wasn’t getting anywhere.”
She issued a stark warning to the PM that any lurch to the right would damage his chances of securing a majority at the next election, despite a YouGov poll in The Sunday Times suggesting the Tories had taken a 14-point lead over Labour.
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage has offered Mr Johnson a “non-aggression” pact at the next election in a move the prominent Eurosceptic predicted could secure a 100-seat majority.
“If we become a party which has no place for the type of moderate that I am, then we will not win,” said Ms Rudd.
The former home secretary said the issue was not confined to her own party, with Labour’s Diana Johnson facing a deselection battle after the former minister became the first MP to be forced to fight to remain a candidate under new watered-down rules agreed by members last year.
“Both parties are having difficulty maintaining their moderate side,” she added.
Ms Rudd told the BBC she hoped the Tory whip would be restored to her and the sacked MPs before the next election is called.
The PM is set to ask the Commons on Monday to approve his second request for a snap poll, having failed with a bid to secure an election last week.
She said: “I’m actually not leaving the Conservative Party. What I am doing is surrendering the whip alongside my colleagues, the 21 others, in order to stand with them.
“I know I couldn’t carry on in the Conservative Party at such a high level and see 21 of my colleagues, who are good, moderate people who also want a deal, excluded from it. I just needed to move and stand by them.
“I hope that we will all be returned before a general election so we can all stand as Conservatives. I am a Conservative.”
Justine Greening, one of those to have the whip withdrawn, told Sky News’ Sophie Ridge programme that she was told of her dismissal after listening to a voicemail from Chief Whip Mark Spencer after getting off the Tube.
The former education secretary, who represents the Remain-voting constituency of Putney, said: “I think it might have been polite after 14 years to try to call me back perhaps a second time. I think it says an awful lot more about, I guess, the state of the Conservative Party than it does about me.
“I have served my community and my country for 14 years and I think it’s a shame that the whip has been withdrawn for me doing the simple thing of representing my community in Parliament.”
Shadow attorney general and Labour peer Baroness Chakrabarti branded the PM’s decision to “purge” centrist Conservatives from Government as “very un-British”.
But Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab stood by the move to oust the rebels.
“I think the Prime Minister was right to restore some discipline and I think he’s right to expect it from his top team,” he told Sky News.
“It’s been a rough week, but the reality is the Prime Minister is sticking to his guns on what he said to get us out of this rut that we’re in.”