Tory second referendum campaigner Phillip Lee is facing the music at a Special General Meeting of Bracknell Conservative Association this Saturday morning, they will vote on a no confidence motion in him. Except that Lee won’t even be there himself, he issued a shouty press release a couple of weeks ago dismissing it as “entryism”, accusing “a narrow group that seeks to destroy the Conservative Party from within” of trying to “intimidate” him into changing his Brexit position, and even telling his supporters not to attend the meeting either. That’s one way to rally support…
Dr Lee now appears to have realised that wasn’t a particularly good strategy and sent a lengthy email lovebombing all the local Tory members today. He even claims “I have never voted to stop Brexit” while giving an impressively slippery defence of his support for a second referendum. Bad Al Campbell would be proud:
“the only realistic way of healing the country and giving the Conservative party a fighting chance – a confirmatory referendum on a final deal to leave the EU, versus remaining as full members. This is not a way of delaying Brexit – I have always said that the final deal put to the people should be agreed with the EU and deliverable the day after the referendum. On the contrary, it is a way of bringing Brexit, one way or another, to a conclusion.”
Lee literally founded the hapless Tory People’s Vote campaign, needless to say local Tory members are not impressed with his last-minute attempts to spin it as something completely innocuous now. One tells Guido “the general view is that he doesn’t have a f***ing clue”…
Local members are also unimpressed with his attempts to blame entryism, they say many of the people unhappy with Lee have been members for fifteen years or more. Association Chairman Gerry Barber has emailed local members to inform them that only people who have been members for three months or more are entitled to vote. Interestingly he is not planning to reveal the precise vote tallies, only whether the no confidence motion passes or not…
Lee still throws a few red herrings out there to try to pre-emptively undermine the result, he repeats his message that his supporters need not attend, before urging them to vote for him after all in the very same paragraph “if you do, however, happen to be there.” Even if the no confidence vote succeeds, as it did with Dominic Grieve, this doesn’t deselect Lee directly – that would need to be done by a separate deselection vote. Looks like Phillip Lee might be getting his “confirmatory referendum” after all…
Read the letter in full below:
Dear Fellow Conservative,
Over the last month, across the country the Conservative party suffered its worst electoral setbacks in nearly a quarter of a century. Last Friday, that resulted in the Prime Minister being forced to stand down. Tomorrow, the same people who were behind the most bitter and divisive campaign in our political history are trying to force our Association to deselect me over Brexit.
I am writing now because I would like to make sure that my position in relation to that campaign is well understood.
It is a great privilege to represent Bracknell constituency – and one that I take extremely seriously. I am humbled by the trust our constituents placed in me when they re-elected me in 2015 with the best result in our constituency’s history, and in 2017 when our result was the best in the Thames Valley. Conservatives have a great track record locally. Bracknell Forest’s local election results bucked the national trend, showing that people will continue to vote for an excellent Council that provides high quality services at a reasonable cost. Congratulations too to Christopher Bowring who ensured that the Wokingham side of the constituency kept its Conservative Councillor. Together, we have shown people some of the best of Conservatism – pragmatism, integrity, compassion and commitment – and they have responded.
On Brexit, the European election results reflect that our country and Party are vulnerable because they have become so divided. Brexit has divided everyone: families; friends; political parties; and, of course, MPs. The root cause of our problem is that the 2016 referendum was not fought on the basis of a legally and practically deliverable Brexit. The Government’s first task was to define Brexit in legal and practical terms. Sadly, none of the options has so far matched up to Vote Leave’s promises and the option that comes closest to doing so (leaving without a deal) would cause a great deal of damage and does not have the explicit consent of the British people – as the EU election results showed that only around 35% of voters supported political parties advocating ‘No Deal’.
Over the last two years, I have never voted to stop Brexit. I have voted to oppose proposals that many of you have told me, at previous meetings I have held, you also oppose. And I have campaigned, and voted, for what I believe is the only realistic way of healing the country and giving the Conservative party a fighting chance – a confirmatory referendum on a final deal to leave the EU, versus remaining as full members. This is not a way of delaying Brexit – I have always said that the final deal put to the people should be agreed with the EU and deliverable the day after the referendum. On the contrary, it is a way of bringing Brexit, one way or another, to a conclusion. It also secures the people’s informed consent before proceeding with the most significant changes in British geopolitical and economic policies since the Second World War.
At the same time, I have made no secret of the fact that I reached the conclusion just ahead of the 2016 referendum that the best interests of the Bracknell constituency and our country were, on balance, served by remaining in the EU. I did not conclude this lightly as the EU institutions need major reform to serve us well. However, an overwhelming majority of Bracknell’s businesses made it clear that our local prosperity depends on continued membership. And it is important, in a world which is more connected than ever, and where threats such as climate change, pandemics and serious and organised crime require us to work seamlessly across borders, to sustain the close relationship with our nearest neighbours and like-minded nations in which we have invested over decades.
These facts have made me, and other Conservatives who share my views, into targets. Over recent months, a growing campaign by an external organisation has incited people to threaten, abuse and act against me. They have used insults and distorted what I have been saying, and working for, in Parliament. Unfortunately, some Association members, many of whom have recently joined, chose to support that campaign and called for a special meeting to consider a vote of no confidence in me as the Conservative Member of Parliament for Bracknell constituency.
The meeting and vote will have no practical impact other than to create momentum for the campaign and further damage our Party. I will not attend and those who support me should not feel obliged to do so either. While I am very grateful for the many messages of support, we should not play into the hands of a narrow group that seeks to spread hate and destroy our Party from within. Whatever your view on Brexit, this is not the Conservative way. If you do, however, plan to be there, I urge you to turn the meeting into a vote of no confidence in those who want to destroy our Party and vote against the motion.
We now have five months to resolve the Brexit conundrum. We can only do so by finding common ground, and delivering a solution that is acceptable to us all. If we can do that on this most contentious of issues, then we are well on our way to recovering our Party so we can achieve a better future for us all.
Dr Phillip Lee MP
Member of Parliament for Bracknell
House of Commons, SW1A 0AA