Sarah Wollaston bats away call for by-election after defecting to the Lib Dems

Posted On: 
15th August 2019

Former Conservative and Change UK MP Sarah Wollaston has rejected calls for her to face a by-election after defecting to the Liberal Democrats.

Jo Swinson and Sarah Wollaston.

The Totnes MP appeared to concede she would lose such a vote as she said any by-election would "effectively be increasing the Government's majority" at a time of national crisis.

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson announced on Wednesday night that Ms Wollaston - who left the Conservatives in April to represent what was then called the Independent Group - had joined the Lib Dem ranks, taking the party's Commons tally to 14 MPs.

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"Sarah is a fierce campaigner who I have enjoyed working with in the campaign to stop Brexit and as one of the most respected Members of Parliament and brings real expertise to our team," Ms Swinson said.

But Ms Wollaston batted away a suggestion that she should now face a by-election in the constituency where she was re-elected as a Tory MP in 2017.

The Totnes MP told Sky News that while she would "really welcome" a general election in order to test Boris Johnson's lack of "mandate for his version of Brexit", there "simply wouldn't be time" for a by-election Britain's before scheduled EU exit date of 31 October.

"At the moment, if I were to call a by-election all that would happen would be that we would effectively be increasing the Government's majority over the period of a constitutional crisis," she said.

"That's not the right thing to do. Boris Johnson can have an election in Totnes, I would welcome that, by calling a general election. And that's the right way forward, either through a general election or through him putting his final deal to the people."

Ms Wollaston added: "The point is, all that would do over the six-week period when we come back immediately after the recess... [is] there'd be no voice at all in Totnes, no voice at all putting the evidence for how catastrophic this do or die approach to Brexit [will be].

"There simply wouldn't be time in advance of everything happening for that to happen.

"The way we could have time would be for the Prime Minister to either put his final deal to the people vs Remain. That would be one way we could resolve this.

"Another way would be for him to call a general election and then people can genuinely fgive their decision on this huge crisis that is ahead of us."

The Totnes MP - a trained doctor who chairs the cross-party Health and Social Care committee and the Commons Liaison Committee - was first elected for the Conservatives in 2010, having been chosen in the party's first ever open primary to pick a candidate.

She left the Tories in February to join the Indpendent Group, arguing: "Brexit has re-defined the Conservative Party - undoing all the efforts to modernise it."

But the group, which rebranded as Change UK, failed to make a breakthrough at May's European elections, taking home just 3% of the nationwide vote.

Asked whether Ms Wollaston should call a by-election, Ms Swinson said: "Sarah has been an excellent MP for Totnes, and I look forward to seeing her re-elected as a Liberal Democrat MP for Totnes at a General Election."

She added that an election is likely to happen in "if not weeks then months", and her newest MP will be "happy to stand on her record of service".