Pressure grows on Brandon Lewis over pairing row

PUBLISHED: 14:20 20 July 2018 | UPDATED: 16:33 20 July 2018

Chief whip Julian Smith (left) and Tory chairman Brandon Lewis
Photo: PA

Chief whip Julian Smith (left) and Tory chairman Brandon Lewis Photo: PA

PA Wire/PA Images

Embattled Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis will be “looking to ride it out until recess” after calls for him to quit as Conservative Party chairman.

Mr Lewis broke a pairing arrangement with new mother Jo Swinson during a knife-edge Brexit vote on Tuesday evening.

Pairing is an arrangement between parties whereby if an MP is not available another from a party voting the other way will not vote to cancel it out.

Mr Lewis and chief whip Julian Smith have come under huge pressure since the arrangement was broken with some MPs even calling for the pair to quit their posts.

Both have apologised to Ms Swinson.

Tory sources said the move had been an error but admitted the Whips’ office had considered breaking other pairing arrangements during the vote.

One Tory aide said: “They are both just looking to ride it out until recess. It is all a bit embarrassing to be honest. It does not look good for us.

“I think resignations might be going a bit far though. Our opponents are definitely looking to make political capital on this but I guess we only have ourselves to blame.”

A cabinet minister sidestepped questions on whether the chief whip should resign over the scandal.

Karen Bradley repeatedly told BBC Radio 4’s the Today programme that Mr Smith had made an “honest mistake” when he ordered Mr Lewis to vote.

But the Northern Ireland secretary, a former whip, twice declined to say if his job was at stake.

Former Tory minister Anna Soubry joined Labour in calling for Mr Smith and Mr Lewis to resign but the prime minister insisted they had made an “honest mistake”.

She added: “An honest mistake was made here and both the chief whip and Brandon Lewis have apologised to Jo Swinson, the member for East Dunbartonshire, about that.”

Waveney Tory MP Peter Aldous also offered his support. He said: “I know Brandon Lewis, I don’t believe it was deliberate at all.

“I am supportive and I believe what the chief whip has said and therefore I take his word and we can move on from here and rebuild bridges.

“I think the proxy voting, which is something that the leader of the house is promoting, those sort of arrangements to bring voting in parliament into the 21st century are things that we do need to look at.”

Over the course of the parliament, 66 pairing arrangements have been broken, with 52 of those at the hands of the opposition, according to Tory sources.

Conservative whips did consider breaking short-term pairing arrangements – those for MPs who need to be away for another engagement, sources acknowledged.

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