Published: Fri, July 20, 2018
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Tory chief whip Julian Smith under fire in pairing row

Tory chief whip Julian Smith under fire in pairing row

The decision for Lewis to vote has led to uproar on both the opposition and Tory benches, with MPs furious the pairing convention has been undermined.

Ms Swinson, who recently gave birth to her son Gabriel, reacted furiously when Mr Lewis was revealed to have voted and help the government win two knife-edge divisions on the Trade Bill on Tuesday.

Asked whether she endorsed her chief whip's conduct, Mrs May said: "There was an honest mistake made for which the chief whip and Brandon Lewis have both apologised to the member concerned".

"To be fair, hats off to the two MPs who told their chief whip to take a running jump when he asked them to break a pairing just because the Government might lose".

"If they can't do so, surely the chief whip and Conservative Party chair should resign".

Mr Lewis had been "paired" with Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson, meaning neither would walk through the voting lobbies. A report by the cross-party Commons procedure committee has already set out how one could be set up, including proxy voting for parliamentarians who are absent after giving birth or through illness, but no action has been taken yet.

But Lewis reneged on the agreement and voted, prompting calls for the Conservative chief whip, Julian Smith, to quit.

"This Government is rotten to its core".

Robert Peston, the political editor of ITV News, said: "I was told by well-placed source that a Tory backbencher was texted by chief whip with instructions to break pair on Tuesday night".

But other Conservative MPs, including Anna Soubry, Peter Bone and Heidi Allen, have also raised concerns. "If true, Julian Smith must resign, or be sacked".

Ms Swinson appeared to mock the controversy, and said: "This reflects pretty badly on those peddling the "honest mistake" nonsense".

But the party chairman and two other Tory MPs were told by Mr Smith that they should go ahead and vote despite being paired, according to the Times.

A Conservative spokesman said: "We have apologised for the fact that a pregnancy pairing arrangement was broken in error this week".

Downing Street insisted Mrs May still had total confidence in Mr Smith.

Commons leader Andrea Leadsom told MPs: "There were three pairs on Tuesday".

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