Opposition MPs are demanding action after the Conservative Party sank to a new low to secure crucial votes for its Brexit bill.
Chief whip Julian Smith is at the heart of the scandal after the Times published [paywall] allegations that he ordered MPs to ignore pairing arrangements. Pairing arrangements are used to ensure MPs who are, for example, on maternity leave, are matched with another MP who’d vote differently. The paired MP then doesn’t vote.
Conservative chair Brandon Lewis was paired with Lib Dem Jo Swinson who is currently on maternity leave. Lewis voted and Swinson called him out on it. Lewis apologised, and the Conservative whip took responsibility, claiming it was a “mistake”.
The allegations go all the way to the top. At Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on 18 July, Theresa May claimed the breaking of the pairing “was done in error”. This means that, if the allegations are true, she doesn’t know what her chief whip is doing. Or she lied to parliament.
He’s got to go
Opposition MPs, including deputy Labour leader Tom Watson, took to Twitter to call for Smith’s resignation:
Tory chief whip told three MPs to defy "pairing" deals on crucial Brexit votes according to today's Times. If true, this is despicable behaviour which makes politics even more inaccessible for women.
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If true, Julian Smith must resign, or be sacked.https://t.co/ysKYWZNadQ
— Tom Watson (@tom_watson) July 19, 2018
And he wasn’t alone:
If this is true then the Chief Whip must resign. Goes to the very basic standards of how Parliament functions effectively. https://t.co/84oLoLqGyg
— Stephen Doughty MP / AS (@SDoughtyMP) July 19, 2018
He’s a ?? cheat. He should resign.https://t.co/kOn9tB5C76
— Andrew Gwynne MP (@GwynneMP) July 19, 2018
This is deplorable. If true, Tory Chief Whip Julian Smith must consider his position and Brandon Lewis needs to explain why he falsely suggested to Jo Swinson that it was simply an "honest mistake" https://t.co/4t05znNDIP
— Matthew Pennycook MP (@mtpennycook) July 19, 2018
Lib Dems and Green MP Caroline Lucas also echoed this view:
Julian Smith should resign. Members of this government are obviously lying to hold up their crumbling authority, and in doing so robbing @joswinson of her right to vote, and insulting voters in her constituency. Tories out. https://t.co/RqUXscTheO
— Wera Hobhouse MP (@Wera_Hobhouse) July 19, 2018
These are very serious allegations. The Tory chief whip @JulianSmithUK and the Prime Minister urgently need to come before MPs and explain themselves. And, if the allegations prove well-founded, Smith should be sacked. https://t.co/mXKxYjAyON
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) July 19, 2018
And even some Conservative MPs weren’t impressed:
I sincerely hope this isn’t true. No matter how tough the going gets, principle, integrity and standards matter. Without those, what’s left? https://t.co/26NHeNjmmg
— Heidi Allen (@heidiallen75) July 19, 2018
Where does the buck stop?
But some MPs and political commentators are pointing out that the buck doesn’t necessarily stop with Smith:
Dishonesty runs deep in this desperate government.
It now looks like a question of whether the chief whip, party chair or the PM herself ordered this deception against an MP on maternity leave.
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) July 19, 2018
Yesterday, Theresa May said at PMQs @BrandonLewis had made an honest mistake when disregarding his pairing arrangement with @joswinson. Now, it emerges that MPs were instructed to do so by the chief whip. She lied outright to Parliament.
— Ash Sarkar (@AyoCaesar) July 19, 2018
— Owen Jones? (@OwenJones84) July 19, 2018
This latest dirty trick is indicative of a government in crisis resorting to desperate and outrageous measures.
If the allegations are true, May either has no control over the actions by her chief whip for a mistake she said “wasn’t good enough”, or the orders are coming from the top. Either way, May, Smith and her party have to go. We deserve better than this.
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