Former government minister blasts CCHQ for banning pro-Remain campaign group from Tory conference
A Tory former minister has accused party bosses of setting a "dangerous precedent" after they banned a pro-Remain group from attending the annual Conservative conference.
Ex-justice minister Phillip Lee hit out at the decision to refuse security passes to the Best for Britain campaign group, claiming the move amounted to an attack on freedom of expression.
Three campaigners from the anti-Brexit group were told they had been refused security passes for the party’s Birmingham conference later this month, just weeks after the removal of a Best for Britain fringe event from the conference guide.
An email from the Conservative conference team informed them: “Having considered your application for a security pass to attend then Conservative Party Conference, I write to inform you that your application for accreditation has not been granted.”
The group is set to hold an event calling for a referendum on the final Brexit deal in a venue outside the secure zone, but will now not be able to enter the main conference hall.
Theresa May has repeatedly insisted a second referendum of any kind is not Government policy and will not happen under her watch.
But Dr Phillip Lee, who resigned from the Government to fight against Brexit and who is set to speak at the Best for Britain event, said the decision set a “dangerous precedent”.
“The party has already censored the group Conservatives for a People’s Vote, which is arranging a fringe meeting during Conference, to be addressed by myself, Justine Greening, and Anna Soubry,” he told PoliticsHome.
“Other meetings and groups relating to Europe – Brexit Central, the Bruges Group, the CGE – are all welcomed to the conference, but CCHQ seem to view Best for Britain and Conservatives for a People’s Vote as so dangerous that they must be banned."
He added: “This further action is starting to look not just like an attack on those who question the government’s approach to Brexit, but an attack on the right to freedom of expression.
“It also sets a dangerous precedent as it gives support to those who make threats, often physical, towards MPs who speak out for giving the British people a final say on the Brexit deal."
He added: “I suggest that if CCHQ is worried about external influences, it should, as a matter of urgency, start looking at, and taking steps to counter, the entryism from far-right groups, who are openly bragging about their aim to take over the Conservative party.”
Best for Britain chief Eloise Todd branded the decision “unbelievable” and claimed the Brexit debate was being "stifled".
She added: “The Conservative party can put their heads in the sand but it doesn’t change the fundamental and unavoidable truth that public opinion is shifting away from Brexit.
"People want to have a final say on the Brexit deal and compare the deal the Government brings back with the current British deal we have.
“A party of government should always be listening – even to voices it may disagree with.”
CCHQ has been approached for comment.