Theresa May Says Her Chief Whip Made “Honest Mistake” When He Broke Convention On Crucial Brexit Vote

Theresa May has insisted that her chief whip, Julian Smith had made an “honest mistake” when he ordered a Tory MP to break a pairing agreement and vote in the Commons despite being paired with an opposition MP on maternity leave.

Mr Smith and the chairman of the Conservative Party Brandon Lewis are under intense pressure to quit in a row over claims they adopted murky tactics during a crucial Brexit vote.

The Tory chief whip reportedly told some Conservative lawmakers to break a pairing arrangement with rival parties that ensures genuine absences do not skew votes in parliament.

Mr Lewis was not supposed to vote on key amendments to the Trade Bill on Tuesday as he had an agreement with Liberal Democrat lawmaker Jo Swinson, who is on maternity leave – not to. But he did.

Pairing is an informal arrangement between two MPs of opposing parties not to vote on a particular decision. In theory this means an MP can miss the vote without it affecting the result as they cancel each other out.

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The Times reported that Mr Lewis and two other Tory MPs were told by Mr Smith that they should go ahead and vote despite being paired. The paper said the two unnamed MPs both sought further advice and ignored the order.

His votes helped the PM to narrowly avoid a defeat which could have triggered calls for a vote of no confidence.

Heidi Allen, the backbench Tory MP said she had challenged Mr Smith about the incident and he was “unable to confirm” that he did not order the breaking of the pact.

“There was an honest mistake made for which the chief whip and indeed Brandon Lewis have both apologized to the member concerned.” the Prime Minister said while facing calls to sack the two men if they did not resign voluntarily.

During the PMQs, Mrs May told MPs: “The breaking of the pair was done in error. It wasn’t good enough and will not be repeated.”

Later, Ms Swinson tweeted: “Just how low will your govt stoop Theresa May” she added, “Today your govt broke that agreement – Brandon Lewis paired with me but voted. Desperate stuff.”

Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery said: “The Tories’ story is changing by the minute as they desperately scramble to cover up their appalling actions.”

“This Government is rotten to its core. Julian Smith and Brandon Lewis must now resign or be sacked, and Theresa May must apologise for misleading the House.” Lavery added.

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