Published: Fri, July 20, 2018
People | By Neil Grant

Chief whip Julian Smith 'told MPs to defy pairing deals'

Chief whip Julian Smith 'told MPs to defy pairing deals'

Shadow equalities secretary Dawn Butler said: "If these reports are correct, the Tory whips, Brandon Lewis and even the prime minister have been telling untruths about their shocking move against an MP on maternity leave".

On Tuesday she announced on social media that she would be paired with Tory MP and party chairman, Brandon Lewis for the crucial Brexit vote (New clause 18) on a free trade area and customs union with EU, which the government subsequently won by a margin of 6 votes. Jo Swinson who gave birth to her son Gabriel two weeks ago, is on maternity leave so she missed the crucial parliamentary showdown.

Yesterday, Theresa May told the Commons that it had just been a mistake.

Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery said the Conservatives' story was "changing by the minute", that Mrs May should apologise and both Mr Smith and Mr Lewis "must now resign or be sacked".

Today The Times reveals that not only did Tory chief whip Julian Smith instruct Lewis to break the pairing agreement, he also told two other paired MPs that they should vote.

Accusing the Tories of "cheating", she said it was a "calculated, deliberate breaking of trust" by the Government whips to "win at all costs".

The Tory MP Heidi Allen said: "I sincerely hope this isn't true".

But Lewis reneged on the agreement and voted, prompting calls for the Conservative chief whip, Julian Smith, to quit.

It said the two unnamed MPs both sought further advice and ignored the instruction. "If we can not behave with honour we are nothing".

A Conservative spokesman added: "We have apologised for the fact that a pregnancy pairing arrangement was broken in error this week".

Reacting to the report, Ms Swinson said: "Well".

The Lib Dems called for the Chief Whip, who normally does not speak in parliament, to make a statement to the House, claiming the Conservatives had "clearly broken the pairing convention and possibly misled Parliament in calling the vote "a mistake".

Downing Street insisted Mrs May still had total confidence in Mr Smith.

SNP Westminster leader Pete Wishart asked in the Commons for a full inquiry into the breakdown of pairing.

This ensures parties do not suffer if one of more of their MPs are ill or on maternity leave, for example.

"We still need proxy voting".

Commons leader Andrea Leadsom told MPs: "There were three pairs on Tuesday".

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