Sat, 9 December 2023

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EXCL Theresa May accused of 'buying off' Brexit critics after Tory MP gets plum job

Emilio Casalicchio

3 min read

Theresa May was last night accused of “buying off” her Brexit critics after it emerged a Scottish Tory MP who raised concerns about fisheries was handed a plum job working for the PM.

Andrew Bowie was made a Parliamentary Private Secretary to Mrs May during the Christmas break - effectively a personal assistant on the bottom rung of the ministerial ladder.

The MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine previously raised concerns about her promises for fisheries after Brexit, but was one of the first Scottish Tory MPs to fall in line and back the deal she clinched with Brussels.

Labour said Mrs May was “trying to bribe her backbenchers one by one” but argued she would not be able to “buy off every potential rebel with a government job”.

In November, Mr Bowie joined the 12 other Scottish Tory MPs in signing a letter to the PM shortly before her deal was made public, warning that she must not "betray" fishermen.

They demanded that the Withdrawal Agreement should end unrestricted access for EU fishing fleets to UK waters by the end of the Brexit transition period in 2020.

The blueprint simply says the UK and EU will use "best endeavours" to agree a deal on fishing by the time Britain quits the bloc, but suggests it could be linked to future trading arrangements.

Ministers have insisted any fisheries deal will be negotiated separately to any future trade arrangements, and pointed to wording in the Withdrawal Agreement that the UK will be an "independent coastal state".

Elsewhere, the post-Brexit blueprint is unclear on what will happen over fisheries if the transition period is extended to allow more time to secure a future trade deal.

Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Jon Trickett told PoliticsHome: “As May’s new PPS knows so well, this deal spells disaster for our fishing industry and for Britain.

“He formerly defied his leader to point this out, but perhaps loyalty to his new boss will keep him quiet from now on.”

But Mr Bowie insisted the accusation by Labour did not “stack up”.

“That doesn’t make any sense considering I always backed the deal and always backed the PM,” he told PoliticsHome.

“I backed the deal from the day it was published and I backed the PM wholeheartedly in the confidence vote [on her leadership in December].”

He added: “The appointment came as a complete shock – I was already a PPS in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. I wasn’t ever considering resigning – I fully backed the deal; I think it’s a good deal for Scotland.”

When the Brexit deal was published in November, Mr Bowie said it was "time to unite behind [Mrs May] and deliver Brexit", although he said he "fully respects all those in my own party that disagree from points of principle".

Other Scottish Tories have also fallen into line and thrown their weight behind the deal. But Aberdeen South MP Ross Thomson has refused to lend his support, arguing it does not deliver on fisheries.

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont has also said he cannot not vote for the deal, arguing the controversial Northern Ireland backstop plan to keep the Irish border open could put the Union at risk. 

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