Tory chief whip under pressure to resign over claims he told MPs to break pairing deals in crunch votes

Posted On: 
19th July 2018

The Conservative chief whip is facing calls to quit over claims he urged three of his MPs to break pairing arrangements to win a crucial Commons vote on Brexit.

Julian Smith insisted the Conservative chairman Brandon Lewis was "asked to vote in error" despite a deal to respect maternity leave
Credit: 
PA

Labour questioned whether Theresa May had been "telling untruths" after the row over pairing exploded yesterday, and demanded a "full, honest explanation".

Tory chairman Brandon Lewis sparked fury this week when he voted on two knife edge-divisions on Brexit legislation, despite Lib Dem Jo Swinson, who has just had a baby, being assured he would not do so.

Labour casts doubt on Tory chairman's claim he broke pairing agreement by 'mistake'

Tory chairman criticised as government ignores maternity leave deal for knife-edge Brexit votes

The longstanding parliamentary convention allows MPs who are on maternity leave, ill or out of the country to be 'paired off' with an opposing colleague so as to cancel out their vote.

Mr Lewis has described his votes as an "honest mistake by the whips", while Tory chief whip Julian Smith insisted Mr Lewis had been "asked to vote in error".

But the Times reports that the chief whip urged Mr Lewis and two other Conservative MPs to abandon pairing deals in order to see off a Commons defeat.

The two other MPs are said to have ignored the instructions, seeking further advice before staying away from the division lobbies.

Shadow Equalities Minister 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.

"Breaking a pairing arrangement was a desperate move by a collapsing government and makes politics even more inaccessible for women.

"We need a full, honest explanation of what's gone on. If they can't do so, surely the chief whip and party chair should resign."

One Conservative MP told the Times: "This suggests a worrying pattern of behaviour and could amount to a breach of trust."

But a Tory source maintained that the move was "cock up not conspiracy", telling PoliticsHome that there "would have been many more" broken pairs if party managers had ordered a mass disregarding of the arrangement.

Mr Lewis's office has yet to respond to a request for comment.

Theresa May yesterday told MPs the incident "wasn’t good enough" and "will not be repeated", but insisted the Government takes pairing "very seriously".