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Britain’s Conservatives Erupt Into Civil War as Unlikely Rebels Defy Boris Johnson

The Conservative rebels by and large support pulling Britain out of Europe, but with a deal to explain and manage future relations. That alone has made some of them targets, with a grass roots campaign of party members seeking to punish lawmakers not supportive of a no-deal Brexit.

For some of those members, Mr. Johnson’s move to expel the rebels was long overdue.

“At some point, you have to draw a line in the sand,” said John Rawlins, a former Conservative member who backed an effort to expel Mr. Gauke, one of the rebels, from his seat. “As far as I’m concerned, anyone who actively works against the queen’s government, it’s treason.”

Despite the animosity, many moderate Conservative lawmakers were slow to back a rebellion against Mr. Johnson, wanting to give him a chance to strike a new deal. But they saw few signs of progress. And the mood swung when Mr. Johnson took the extraordinary step of suspending Parliament to push through his Brexit plans.

“Boris has now broken some of the rules,” Mr. Wager said. “That’s what gives someone like Nicholas Soames license to do it, because the unwritten rules of British politics are being rewritten by Boris, and that creates a counterreaction.”

Expelling Conservative rebels was another draconian move by Mr. Johnson, one that was a step too far even for some of the grass-roots Conservative members who support him, like John Strafford, a leading advocate for Conservative members. He said it was “totally wrong that so much power can be put in the hands of one person.”

Tuesday night’s vote was a sea change for a party that has been haggling over membership in the European Union for decades. In the interest of defusing the argument, moderate lawmakers have tended to buckle in the past to the views of their more ardent, anti-Europe colleagues. They agreed, for instance, to hold a referendum in the first place. But no longer.

“For about 30 years, they’ve had these arguments about Europe, where each time these sort of moderate political figures have given in to the euroskeptics,” Mr. Wager said. “But to propose a no deal shows the fight is permanently lost within the Conservative Party. There’s nothing else to lose.”

Source: NYT > World News

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