MPs reject motion to force a vote to ban fracking in the UK

The government has defeated Labour's bid to force a vote to ban fracking, amid accusations of bullying and manhandling of Conservative MPs.

Newly resigned Prime Minister Liz Truss' government won the vote on fracking legislation by 326 votes to 230 in the House of Commons on Wednesday, despite the lack of votes of 30 Conservative MPs. 

The motion discussed was one put forth by Labour to force a vote on the banning of fracking, a very controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, which uses high-pressure liquid to release gas from shale formations.

The moratorium on fracking had been in place since 2019 following a series of earth tremors, but the ban was lifted in September 2022 by Truss. At the time, Conservatives representing seats in northern England hit out at the move to end the ban, which unequivocally breaks a clear Tory manifesto promise.

Due to the controversial nature of the motion, as well as the growing animosity against Truss' government – which has been severely criticised for its economic policiesConservative whips initially stated the vote was being treated as a “confidence motion” against the government and ordered their MPs to vote against it. 

However, 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.”

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, Stuart added: “That is a matter for party managers, and I am not a party manager.”

The division within the party was evident, as no votes were recorded for 30 Conservative MPs including Boris Johnson, Nadine Dorries, David Davis, Greg Clark, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Kwasi Kwarteng, Theresa May, Wendy Morton, Alok Sharma, Priti Patel and Ben Wallace.

Before the vote, Conservative trade minister Sir James Duddridge 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.”

During the debate, 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.

Other MPs, including Chris Skidmore, Tracey Crouch and Angela Richardson, said they intended to back the government's position, but that their votes were not recorded. 

Although the government did finally win the vote, the victory was overshadowed by claims that Conservative MPs were being bullied into opposing the controversial motion. Labour former minister Chris Bryant said some MPs had been “physically manhandled into another lobby and being bullied”.

“There was a bunch of Conservative members obviously completely uncertain whether they were allowed to vote with Labour or against it,” he told Sky News. “There was a group including several Cabinet ministers who were basically shouting at them. At least one member was physically pulled through the door into the voting lobby. That is completely out of order."

He named Therese Coffey and Jacob Rees-Mogg as some of the people in the group. 

Another Labour MP, David Linden, said he saw Coffey, the deputy Prime Minister, “practically pick up a hesitant Tory MP and march him into the government lobby”. Coffey has since denied the claim. 

Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg sought to limit the rebellion by insisting communities will have a “veto” on fracking in their area and playing down Bryant's allegations. He reportedly told Sky News he did not see any bullying or physical contact "beyond a female affectionately patting someone on the back" - though "one member used an expletive".

However, senior Tory MP Sir Charles Walker said what took place was “inexcusable”.

“It is a pitiful reflection on the Conservative Parliamentary Party at every level and it reflects really badly, obviously, on the government of the day,” he told BBC News.

The UK lift of the fracking ban, was part of Truss' plans to make the UK a net energy exporter by 2040. 

At the time, energy secretary Rees-Mogg insisted that fracking was in the national interest and would make the country richer. He suggested current limits on acceptable levels of seismic activity are too restrictive and said the government is determined to “realise any potential sources of domestic gas”.

However, the plan was opposed by a government-commissioned report by the British Geological Survey, which suggested that more data is needed to ensure the technology is safe to use. 

Last week, Labour pledged to ban fracking “once and for all”calling it “an unjust charter for earthquakes”. The pledge followed Keir Starmer's speech to the Labour party conference last month, where he promised to create a publicly owned energy company to ensure energy security in the UK.

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