Former Tory minister praises ‘principled’ Philip Lee resignation with swipe at David Davis
A former Conservative minister has praised Philip Lee's “honesty and integrity” following his shock resignation from the frontbench ahead of today’s key Brexit bill votes.
In a clear swipe at David Davis, Nick Boles said he admired the justice minister’s decision to quit “when nobody is expecting it” rather than “to threaten resignation but never follow through”.
His comments come just days after the Brexit Secretary was understood to be on the verge of quitting over Theresa May's refusal to specify an end date in the Government's "backstop" proposal for avoiding a hard Irish border.
Dr Lee - who is an ally of Theresa May - stunned attendees at an event hosted by Conservative thinktank Bright Blue this morning when he revealed on stage that he was quitting to vote against the Government on its flagship EU Withdrawal Bill.
In a scathing assault on the Prime Minister’s approach, the Bracknell MP said the Brexit policy being pursued by the Government was “detrimental to the people we are elected to serve”.
He will now vote against the Government on a House of Lords amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill which would give Parliament the final say on Brexit policy if MPs vote against the final withdrawal agreement.
Tory backbencher Heidi Allen backed said her party colleague had shown “integrity”.
Another Tory Brexit rebel, Stephen Hammond, said: "I think he’s reflecting the frustration that a lot of colleagues feel that we aren’t further ahead on preparations and he’s also reflecting the frustration that we want to ensure that the Parliament has a proper say on how we leave the EU and make sure that we don’t crash out with no vote."
The Prime Minister learned of Dr Lee's resignation by letter just minutes before the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting in Number 10 at 9.30 this morning.
Her spokesman said: "His resignation is a matter for him. We thank him for his service."
Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said other ministers should follow Dr Lee's example.
"Dr Phillip Lee has done the right thing by his constituents and the country,” he said. “Where he leads, other ministers should follow. For Theresa May, this is a warning of things to come."
Labour MP and Open Britain campaigner Chuka Umunna said: “Brexit is going badly not just because of incompetence but because it is impossible to deliver in the form it was promised, and it is the people of Britain who will suffer the consequences.
“That is why it is so important that principled politicians from all parties, like Dr Phillip Lee, take a stand now and put country before party.
“History will not be kind to those who choose to shirk our responsibilities and put their careers first.
Green MP and Best for Britain campaigner Caroline Lucas said: “I hope that other ministers will search their consciences and do the same.
“Many have had to wrestle between loyalty to their party and what they believe is in the best interests for the next generation.
“If a personal friend of Theresa May, as Phillip Lee is, can make this call, others can too."
Labour peer and arch-Remainer Lord Adonis said Mr Lee's decision could spark further resignations.
'COUNT AGAINST HIM'
However the Telegraph reported that Mr Lee is set to be hauled before his local party to explain the move next week, with the chair of Bracknell Conservatives adding that he could be de-selected.
Chris Boutle told the paper that “if an election were to be called it will count again him”.
“The constituency voted for Leave and although there are a few very enthusiastic Remainers, the majority of his party certainly wants to leave.
“A number of those who voted for remain are now prepared to accept the democratic decision and leave.”
Former Cabinet minister and avid Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith told the BBC: “I’m sorry that he has resigned.
“I didn’t realise that he felt this strongly about it. He kept it quite quiet but that is up to him that is his right to do so.
“And, as I say, it will be his responsibility to behave accordingly in the course of his debates."