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19th Jul 2018

Tory chief whip reportedly told three MPs to betray trust on pairing deals on ‘knife-edge’ Brexit votes

Nooruddean Choudry

‘Principle, integrity and standards matter. Without those, what’s left?’

It has been claimed that Julian Smith, the chief whip of the Conservative Party, urged three Tory MPs to ignore ‘pairing’ arrangements in the Commons on Tuesday.

‘Pairing’ is an arrangement between two MPs of opposing parties that allows them to miss occasional votes in the House. So if two members from opposite sides both agree to miss a vote, they essentially cancel out each other’s absence. It is particularly useful for MPs who cannot attend certain votes due to reasons such as maternity leave.

Brandon Lewis, the Conservative Chair, did break a pairing deal with the Liberal Democrat’s Jo Swinson – who is on maternity leave – but claimed it was a mistake. However, Sam Coates of the Times reports that the chief whip informed Lewis that a crunch vote was ‘going to be close’ and that ‘he needed him to vote.’

According to Coates’ report, there are two other Tory MPs who were told by Smith that they should vote on Tuesday despite being paired. Both are said to have ignored the instruction. The Tory whips’ office have so far refused to comment on the story, but Tom Watson, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, has called for resignations if the Times story is true.

Conservative MP Heidi Allen has also voiced her concern about the story, commenting: ‘No matter how tough the going gets, principle, integrity and standards matter. Without those, what’s left?’

Despite Lewis apologising for reneging on the pairing deal, Swinson slammed the ‘breaking of trust’, calling it ‘calculated’ and ‘desperate stuff’: