Did the Chief Whip Help Grieve Get His Votes?

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…

May Insists Pairing Scandal “An Honest Mistake”

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.”

Brandon Knew He Was Paired But Voted Anyway

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…

Tory MP Accuses Chief Whip and Government of Lying

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…

Julian Smith Ordered Tory MPs to Break Pairs

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:

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?

No.10 Has Full Confidence in Julian Smith

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…

Those Broken Pairs Numbers in Full

A former veteran Tory whip texts:

“There have been 2,000 pairs arranged since the General Election. 66 have been broken. 14 pairs have been broken by the Government and 52 pairs have been broken by the Opposition (of which 7 were broken by the Lib Dems, despite them having only 12 MPs). There is a lot of faux outrage about.”

It turns out Labour, and proportionally especially the LibDems, are by some distance the worse offenders when it comes to breaking pairs. It does seem to happen a fair amount – around 3% of pairs are broken, and four-fifths of the broken pairs were committed by opposition parties. The Brandon Lewis / Julian Smith / Jo Swinson row comes down to whether you believe the chief whip that it was a mistake… it would be an extraordinarily dangerous thing to lie about… 

Whips Only Told Brandon to Vote on Two Crunch Votes

Is Brandon Lewis / Julian Lewis excuse that they didn’t know he was paired with pregnant Jo Swinson last night believable? Not really. The Tory party chairman abstained for seven of the nine votes – the whips told him he was not needed for the seven where the government didn’t need every last vote. For the two votes that were on a knife-edge, Brandon voted with the government. Did the whips really not know he was paired with an absent pregnant MP? Swinson isn’t buying it, she says the excuse is “literally not credible”.

Tory chief whip Julian Smith has offered this apology:

As has Brandon, but he has declined to answer Swinson’s request for a further explanation:

There is talk that other paired Tories were pressured to break their promises too…

Chief Whip Bans Tory MPs From Doing Media Bids on Brexit

The chief whip has banned Tory MPs from doing media bids on Brexit until they have been briefed fully by Number 10, Guido can reveal. Julian Smith emailed Tory MPs last night ordering them not to carry out any media bids until they had heard Number 10’s side of the argument. May’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell is also offering a new emergency briefing tonight, in addition to the previously scheduled one on Monday morning.

From: Government Chief Whip
Subject: Further briefing on Sunday evening

Dear Colleague

You will have seen my emails inviting you to the briefing this morning in No 9 Downing Street and to the briefings on Monday morning. I am keen to ensure that all Colleagues are able to attend a briefing and to be provided with as much information as possible about what the Cabinet has agreed.

The Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff is willing to give an extra briefing on Sunday evening at 8pm. If you are interested in attending this briefing, please could you let me know as soon as possible?

I want to stress that Colleagues must ensure they receive a full briefing before carrying out any media bids and you can contact me or No 10 Press Office to arrange this.

With best wishes

Julian

Rt Hon Julian Smith MP
Government Chief Whip

Signs of trouble…

Those Whips’ Patsies in Full

Last night deputy chief whip Chris Pincher sent this round robin text to a number of Tory MPs begging them to tweet in support of the Prime Minister:

A selection of the least subtle whips’ patsies:

Like footballers being asked to tweet out an advertiser’s campaign, then giving the game away…

Tories Make Sick Labour MP Vote in Wheelchair

Sick Labour MP Naz Shah is forced to vote in a wheelchair and clutching a sick bucket after the Tories refused to keep to the convention of “nodding through” ill MPs. Well done, great look.

Julian Smith Must Hold Firm Against Isolated Grieve

Over the last 48 hours there has been speculation that the whips are going soft and considering a further compromise to Dominic Grieve ahead of tomorrow’s Commons vote.

Guido isn’t sure what else there is to concede on. Number 10 has given Remainers absolutely everything they want, short of the ability to stop Brexit entirely. We are heading towards a very ‘soft’ Brexit, closely aligned to Brussels. We are staying in a customs union for years after Brexiting, possibly longer. By the end of the negotiation, things might be even closer to the Hammond / Remainer vision of Brexit than that. Further concessions are not acceptable.

Remain MPs who Guido has spoken are increasingly unimpressed with the Grieve / Soubry / Hailsham attempt to block Brexit. Most Tory Remainers accept that Brexit has to happen, and that it would be a dangerous betrayal of democracy to allow Grieve and co to get their way. Indeed, Tory Remainers are privately accusing Grieve of dishonesty over his motives. His talk of blowing up the government went down spectacularly badly, too. At least Hailsham and the rebels in the Lords are honest about wanting to stop Brexit. 

How many Tory Remainers have come out to endorse Grieve’s plot to keep us in the EU this week? The likes of Nicky Morgan have been quiet for days. Julian Smith must hold firm, win round the majority of the more sensible Remain rebels, and see Grieve off tomorrow with no further concessions…

Philip Lee and His Three Staff Now Sharing One Desk

Poor old Philip Lee. Yesterday Guido revealed he has had two of the three rooms that made up his office taken away from him by the whips as a punishment beating for his flounce out. He has been stuck in one of the smallest rooms on the parliamentary estate, described as a “broom cupboard”. This morning Guido hears Lee and his three staff are having to share a single desk in the tiny office. There is talk of them even pursuing a legal route to secure better working conditions. Guido also understands the parliamentary authorities this morning ordered Lee to remove his car from his desirable parking space in Speaker’s Court, which he uses every day. He will now have to park in the underground car park.

Lee can hardly complain given he tried to blow up the government on the day that, if May had lost the votes, Corbyn could have been heading to Number 10. It would take a heart of stone not to laugh…

No.10 Sounding Out Tory MPs Over NHS Tax

Tory MPs have been asked for their views on a new NHS tax in the clearest indication yet that Number 10 is considering hiking taxes to increase funding for the health service. In multiple meetings with Theresa May’s aides, MPs have been asked for their views on both a hypothecated tax and a general tax rise.[…] Read the rest

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Tory MPs Put On Three Line Whip For Tuesday Afternoon

Chief whip Julian Smith has just emailed Tory MPs putting them on a three line whip for Tuesday afternoon. No explanation has been given.

Dear colleague

Please be advised that the whip on Tuesday will now be a three-line whip from 12:30pm.

[…] Read the rest

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Former Whip Explains How They Could Cover Up Sex Abuse Scandal

At PMQs Lisa Nandy raised this clip of former Tory whip Tim Fortescue explaining back in 1995 how party whips could help cover up a potential sex abuse scandal. Nandy says she brought it up with Theresa May three years ago.[…] Read the rest

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Boris Boys’ Adams & Berry Get Jobs

Key Boris lieutenants Nigel Adams and Jake Berry have been promoted into government. Berry is the Northern Powerhouse Minister and Guido hears it will be announced later that Nigel will be put in the Whips Office.

Always useful for a leadership campaign to have whips experience…[…] Read the rest

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Tory Whip Withdrawal Rumours Played Down

The BBC’s Norman Smith set off the rumour mill with this intriguing tweet this morning:

Chances it’ll happen? It would mean withdrawing the whip from the likes of Ken Clarke, a Tory MP for 47 years.[…] Read the rest

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One Line Whip This Evening as Whips Bond at the Theatre

The Commons will be quieter than usual post-PMQs as MPs are on a one line whip, effectively giving them the evening off. Surely nothing to do with the joint Tory and Labour whips office trip to see This House tonight. Gavin Williamson and Nick Brown and their respective teams will be bonding at the Garrick for the play at which fashionable politicos must be seen, set in the Tory and Labour whips offices back in the seventies.[…] Read the rest

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Labour Opposes Clamp Down on Illegally Working Immigrants’ Bank Accounts

Labour MPs were whipped on Wednesday to oppose a measure which the government says will make it easier for banks and the Home Office to track the financial activity of illegal migrants. The Immigration Act 2014 (Current Accounts) (Excluded Accounts and Notification Requirements) Regulations 2016 orders banks to pass on customer information through a secure computer system to the Home Office if accounts are held by “disqualified persons” – migrants who have exhausted all rights of appeal and are liable to be removed from the United Kingdom.[…] Read the rest

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