EXCL Tory MP warns against '1930s extreme takeover' of party in deselection row with pro-Brexit colleague

Posted On: 
1st October 2018

An outspoken Conservative MP has urged her party to protect itself against a 1930s-style “extreme takeover” after a pro-Brexit colleague called for her to be deselected.

Brexit activist Darren Grimes and Tory MP Sarah Wollaston
Credit: 
PA Images

Sarah Wollaston said it would be a “wake-up call” for the Tories if a “small number of entryists” managed to oust her from her Totnes seat. But she added: “Bring it on.”

Last night pro-Brexit MP Conor Burns called for an activist fined for breaching electoral campaign rules to replace his pro-EU backbench colleague in the Devon constituency.

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He said Darren Grimes - whose BeLeave outfit was fined the maximum £20,000 by the Electoral Commission for breaching campaign spending rules - should “have a look down in Totnes -  you would be brilliant”.

But speaking to PoliticsHome today, Ms Wollaston shot back: “It’s quite extraordinary that Conor Burns should be proposing to overturn the first ever open postal primary in the country with an individual who has been fined the maximum amount by the Electoral Commission."

She added: “I think it would be a wake-up call if a very small number of entryists - encouraged actively by this kind of speech that we have had from Conor Burns - did actually manage to have me deselected.

“Perhaps at least it would be a wake-up call to people that it is happening in the Conservative party as well as the Labour party...

“I think we are sleepwalking into a situation akin to the 1930s where people allow much more extreme takeover of mainstream political parties of left and right - I think it’s dangerous.”

And she said: “I am fully expecting at some point in the future for there to be a move to deselect me - given the level of entryism that there is now. And my view on that is: Bring it on. I think people need to wake up to this.”

Investigators said BeLeave spent some £600,000 in donations received from the official Brexit campaign under a “common plan”. But groups are not allowed to agree on how to spend donations between them.

Dr Wollaston was among a cross-party group of MPs who signed a letter to the Metropolitan Police and National Crime Agency calling on them to investigate the case.

'VICTIMISED AND PERSECUTED'

Mr Burns - who previously worked as a parliamentary bag carrier for Boris Johnson - said Mr Grimes had been “victimised and persecuted by the provisional wing of Remain, aided and abetted by their bureaucratic masters the Electoral Commission”.

He told Mr Grimes during a Brexit Central event at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham: “That you stood here before us today eloquently and defiant is a tribute to your character.

“These people couldn’t hold a candle to you.”

And he added: “You have been misunderstood. Have a look down in Totnes – you would be brilliant.”

The call is reminiscent of the pro-Jeremy Corbyn Momentum campaign, which has lobbied to deselect Labour MPs critical of the party leader.

Mr Grimes took to Twitter later to note that he was "not the MP for Totnes". He has vowed to appeal the decision by the Electoral Commission.