Tory rebels have accused Boris Johnson of risking the destruction of the party as they vowed to defy threats of deselection and vote to block a no-deal Brexit.
Former chancellor Philip Hammond accused Downing Street of “rank hypocrisy” and warned of the “fight of a lifetime” if officials attempt to prevent him from standing at the next general election as a Conservative candidate.
Dominic Grieve, who served as attorney general in David Cameron’s government, said threats made this week to withdraw the whip from any Tories voting against the Government demonstrated Mr Johnson’s “ruthlessness” in power.
“This is undoubtedly a new ruthlessness on the part of the Prime Minister and I think for a broad church party like the Conservatives I think it bodes ill for us,” he said.
“I simply do not see the Conservative Party surviving in its current form if we continue behaving like this towards each other. This is now becoming a heavily ideological party being led in a way I don’t identify as being Conservative at all.”
Their comments were made after colleague Justine Greening, a former education secretary and Remainer, launched a blistering attack on the Prime Minister as she announced her resignation from the Commons at the next election.
She said her fears that the Conservative Party was morphing into Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party had “come to pass” and accused the current leadership of “narrowing down” the party’s appeal.
Ms Greening said Conservative leader Mr Johnson was offering a “lose-lose” situation for the country if he called a general election.
She said: “I don’t believe that the Conservative Party will offer people a sensible choice at the next election in respect of the fact that Boris Johnson is going to offer people a general election that faces them with the choice of a no-deal or Jeremy Corbyn.
“That is a lose-lose general election for Britain. ”
Ms Greening, Mr Hammond and Mr Grieve all confirmed they would join opposition MPs in voting for legislation designed to delay Britain’s exit from the European Union if no agreement can be struck with the European Union before October 31.
With rebels uniting behind the draft law, which was revealed by Labour MP Hilary Benn on Monday, Mr Johnson could be facing defeat in the Commons.
On Monday, he sought to scare off a rebellion by letting it be known he would push for a snap general election if MPs succeed in their bid to seize control of parliamentary proceedings.
But Mr Hammond, who was re-selected as Tory candidate for Runnymede & Weybridge on Monday night, said: “I will not support a proposal to dissolve Parliament for an election until this bill has completed its passage through Parliament.”
The former Cabinet member told Downing Street to prepare for the “fight of a lifetime” if officials attempted to prevent him from standing at the next election as a Tory candidate.
He said: “A lot of my colleagues have come under immense pressure. Some have responded to that by saying ‘enough, I’m going’. That is not going to be my approach. This is my party. I have been a member of this party for 45 years.”
In what was seen as a swipe at the Prime Minister’s controversial right-hand man, Dominic Cummings, he said: “I am going to defend my party against incomers, entryists, who are trying to turn it from a broad church to narrow faction.”
MPs were returning to the Commons after the summer recess with opponents of a no-deal Brexit looking to take control of business in the House to allow them to discuss proposed legislation to block the UK from leaving the EU without an agreement.
Addressing the nation outside Number 10, the Prime Minister on Monday insisted “I don’t want an election, you don’t want an election” but moments later a Government source said any bid to “wreck” the UK’s negotiating position would prompt a motion for an early election.
The source said Mr Johnson would request a general election on October 14 if the motion got the necessary support of two-thirds of MPs under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FTPA).
The source said the motion would be published before MPs vote on Tuesday so they would know the consequences of voting against the Government.
The source said: “I think if you were to have any chance of securing a deal, which the PM has been very clear that he wants the deal, you would want to have that election on October 14 so that you can go to European Council and secure a deal.”
The source said the vote would be treated as though it is a vote of no confidence, and that any Conservative MP voting against the Government could have the whip withdrawn.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said a defeat on Tuesday could see the Government “forced” to call an election.
He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “I think the risk is that that will be forced by the Government because how could you actually operate if you don’t control the business and the Brexit negotiations.”
Mr Johnson could take on the unenviable accolade of having the shortest reign of any British Prime Minister should he lose a snap election next month, falling short of George Canning’s 119 day stint in 1827.