Theresa May lied to Parliament yesterday. During Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), she told MPs that Chief Whip Julian Smith and Conservative party chair Brandon Lewis broke pairing – in other words, cheated to win a tight vote – in error.
We now know – because Smith admitted it – that he did it intentionally.
Had May lost the vote, it is likely she – and possibly even her government – would have fallen.
Video has also emerged showing Lewis ‘conspiring’ with ‘pairing whip’ Andrew Stephenson just before the vote, with Lewis then literally running to carry out his orders:
Tory Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom was still insisting this evening, on Channel 4 News, that the betrayal had been ‘inadvertent’, in spite of Smith’s admission and the video evidence.
The ministerial code of conduct is absolutely clear: if a minister knowingly misleads Parliament, their resignation is required – and that applies to Prime Ministers equally.
The Tories’ congenital dishonesty means that they are still unable to get their story straight – but Theresa May cannot credibly claim ignorance of the reality of her subordinates’ lack of principle and their actions.
‘Pairing’ is vital to the smooth functioning of Parliament and a government can be hobbled if MPs of other parties refuse to trust it to honour the practice, as they can force the government to keep all its MPs constantly close to Parliament in case there is a vote – and this applies even more so in a Commons as tightly balanced as this one.
It is inconceivable that Smith and Lewis would commit such a breach without May’s knowledge and permission.
Only her own resignation – long overdue after the Windrush debacle – is sufficient for such faithlessness and betrayal.
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