One theory doing the rounds among Brexiteers this morning is that the whips engineered the loss of the Grieve amendment – it is notable that 25 Tory MPs voted for it compared to just two on the other two amendments. Chief whip Julian Smith, according to one Tory MP, had a smile on his face when the amendment passed and the whips did little or nothing to pressure MPs regarding it. Is this a Machiavellian tool to encourage Brexiteers to back May’s deal?
Look at it from the the Remain-backing chief whip’s point of view – while it has no more force of law than a debate at the Oxford Union, it does give the whips an opportunity to frighten Tory MPs, “look old boy if you don’t fall into line, Grieve’s lot will force us into a second referendum or, worse still, a general election”. These are febrile times, nothing would surprise Guido…
Not sure fibbing that you didn’t tell MPs to break their pairs, and then admitting you did when caught red-handed, can be described as either “honest” or a “mistake”. Ministers and Tory MPs requiring pairs in future will have grave fears about how things are going to play out under the current chief whip…
UPDATE: Tom Watson:
“It is unbelievable that the Prime Minister has repeated the desperate and blatantly untrue excuses made by her Party Chair and Chief Whip. This is a serious issue that goes beyond efficient administration in the House of Commons. This is about public trust in politics. At such a crucial time for our country, people expect candour and decency, not cowardice and dishonesty.”
The government’s “honest mistake” line has collapsed further as Guido can reveal Brandon Lewis knew he was paired ahead of the crunch customs votes – but voted anyway. A Tory source has confirmed that he was aware he was paired on Tuesday night. They say he was then told by a whip that he would be required to vote in the two crunch votes, so he did. He categorically denies he was aware that he was paired with the pregnant Jo Swinson. A Tory source insists Brandon acted in good faith…
We know that Julian Smith was explicitly telling paired MPs to break their pairs. We know Brandon knew he was paired, that despite this he received an instruction to vote, and he then voted. Either Brandon has been royally stitched up and misled by Smith, or he knew he was breaking his pair…
This is the government line via Laura K:
“Tory sources say chief whip considered but did not go through with telling any MPs on short term pairs to vote even though they weren’t meant to”
But one of those paired Tory MPs tells The Sun:
“Julian told me I was needed and told me to come in and vote. Of course he knew I was paired. I didn’t vote and honoured my pair, and he demanded to know why not afterwards.”
Either that Tory MP or Julian Smith and the government are lying…
This is looking grim for Julian Smith and Brandon Lewis. Both the Sun and the Mail report that he ordered paired Tory MPs to break their pairs and vote anyway. The Sun quotes a paired Tory MP:
“Julian told me I was needed and told me to come in and vote. Of course he knew I was paired. I didn’t vote and honoured my pair, and he demanded to know why not afterwards. It then appears Julian told the Prime Minister it was all an innocent mistake. What happened was unacceptable. We cannot behave like this”.
The Mail confirms Smith did order MPs to break pairs, but says the order was withdrawn:
Tory sources confirm Chief Whip did send out instructions to break pairing and ‘vote anyway’ on crunch Brexit votes. Did not apply to pregnancy pairs + was (apparently) withdrawn before vote
— Jason Groves (@JasonGroves1) July 19, 2018
The whips office is refusing to deny to Guido the existence of a text from Julian Smith to a paired MP ordering them to break their pair.
The question is: why did Brandon Lewis then break his pregnancy pair? What was discussed in his conversation with the chief whip before he voted?
Number 10 say they have full confidence in Julian Smith. Allies of Smith and Brandon Lewis say they will not be resigning. Peston reports
“I was told by well-placed source that a Tory backbencher was texted by chief whip with instructions to break pair on Tuesday night. “That is an order not a request” was how text was retold to me.”
This is looking very serious… if that text exists…