IN normal times, Tobias Ellwood would today be out of his government job.

But in the extraordinary politics of spring 2019, the Bournemouth East MP remains a defence minister, despite defying the orders of his party by abstaining on a crucial Brexit vote.

He was one of 12 ministers, including four members of the cabinet, who sat out Wednesday night’s key Commons vote.

The result plunged Theresa May’s government into an even deeper crisis than before, as a move to reject a no-deal withdrawal from the European Union under any circumstances was passed by 321 votes to 278.

The government had applied a three-line whip on the vote – the strongest possible measure to enforce party loyalty. That would normally mean a minister would have to resign or face the sack if they could not vote with the government. But the only member of the government to lose their job was work and pensions minister Sarah Newton, who resigned and voted against the government.

Mr Ellwood has repeatedly warned against the consequences of leaving the European Union without a deal, telling the Daily Echo last month: “No deal would be an act of self-harm and it would damage our economy and security and indeed our international reputation.“I don’t recall no-deal, moving to World Trade Organisation terms, being the favoured option of the referendum result. It’s important we recognise that must be taken off the table if the prime minister’s deal is not secured.”

He has also stressed that his parliamentary mailbag contains passionate demands for him to support every possible course of action, from remaining in the EU to leaving without a deal.

Mr Ellwood’s abstention put him again at odds with Bournemouth West MP Conor Burns, a close associate of former foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

Soon after the vote, Mr Burns retweeted the thoughts of Brexit-supporting MP James Duddridge, who asked: “How on earth can the government ask backbenchers to support a three line whip if government ministers refuse to do so?” Mr Burns added the words: “Quite right James.”

The two Bournemouth MPs have been at loggerheads over Brexit in recent times, with Mr Burns repeatedly suggesting Mr Ellwood should resign as a minister. Their disagreements prompted Michael Crick, political editor at Channel 4 News, to tweet to Mr Burns last month: “You and fellow Bournemouth MP Ellwood must have fun times down at the town’s Conservative club.”

Ministers understood they could keep their jobs if they abstained on an amendment tabled by Tory MP Caroline Spelman. A cabinet source said a “significant number of ministers made it clear that they couldn’t vote against Spelman in these circumstances and it was understood that they would not have to”.

West Dorset MP Sir Oliver Letwin voted for the amended motion ruling out a no-deal Brexit under any circumstances. North Dorset’s Simon Hoare abstained.

Voting against were Conor Burns, Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole), Robert Syms (Poole), Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) and Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West).