What does losing the whip mean?

Tory MPs have been told they will lose the whip if they vote against the Budget

Members of Parliament sitting in the House of Commons
(Image credit: Alamy)

It's one of the harshest punishments that a party can inflict on its own MPs, but what does losing the whip mean?

The mini budget (opens in new tab) that has set out the tax and spending plans of Liz Truss' new government has caused uproar among many, with with the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) calling it "unsustainable" and the Bank of England launching an emergency intervention.

In addition to this, the new PM has seen dissatisfaction with the plan that was announced by Kwasi Kwarteng (opens in new tab) from her own MPs. While former Prime Minister Boris Johnson's controversial decisions ultimately ended up in a swathe of MPs resigning (opens in new tab), Liz Truss has avoided such a fate thus far. And it looks like she has no plans to back down, as party chairman Jake Berry has now said that Tory MPs who vote against the budget will lose the whip.

What does losing the whip mean?

When an MP loses the whip, it means they are expelled from their party but remain as an MP. They will therefore sit as an independent member until their party restores the whip.

Losing the whip is also referred to as having the whip removed/withdrawn, and it happens either because of misconduct or if an MP does not vote in line with their party on an issue that is deemed to be important. It is one of the most serious forms of punishment for an MP.

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MPs who have had the whip withdrawn

In 2019, the Conservative Party withdrew the whip from 21 of its MPs who rebelled against then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson in an attempt to block a no-deal Brexit. Those MPs were:

  • Guto Bebb
  • Richard Benyon
  • Steve Brine
  • Alistair Burt
  • Greg Clark
  • Kenneth Clarke
  • David Guake
  • Justine Greening
  • Dominic Grieve
  • Sam Gyimah
  • Philip Hammond
  • Stephen Hammond
  • Richard Harrington
  • Margot Hames
  • Sir Oliver Letwin
  • Anne Milton
  • Caroline Nokes
  • Antoinette Sandbach
  • Sir Nicholas Soames
  • Rory Stewart
  • Ed Vaizey

More recently, in July 2022, Senior Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood had the whip removed after he failed to take part in a confidence vote in the Government.

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What is a Chief Whip?

The Chief Whip - also known as Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury - is responsible for carrying out the whipping system. This means that they make sure that MPs of their party attend and vote in Parliament, and that they vote following the party’s agenda.

Whips may give instructions on votes, and underline each vote depending on how serious the issue is. An instruction underlined once is a one-line whip, twice a two-line whip, and three times a three-line whip. Three-line whips are most important, and MPs who defy a three-line whip may have the whip removed.

However, some votes aren’t whipped at all: these are known as free votes, and MPs can vote as they please without any instruction from the party whips.

Whips are MPs or Lords who have been appointed by their party to the role, and Chief Whip is a role held by a whip for the party that is in Government. 

Who is the Tory Party Chief Whip?

The current Chief Whip for the Conservative Party is Wendy Morton, and she was appointed on 6 September 2022.

Morton has been the Conservative MP for Aldridge-Brownhills since 2015, and prior to her appointment as Chief Whip she served as Minister of State in the Department for Transport.

Before Morton was appointed, the role was held by Chris Heaton-Harris, who is the MP for Daventry and has since been appointed as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Sir Alan Campbell is the current Shadow Chief Whip for the Labour Party.

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