May's party denies 'cheating' in Brexit parliament vote

2018-07-18 17:54

Britain's ruling Conservative party rejected accusations of dirty tricks on Wednesday after breaking a voting pact with an opposition MP on maternity leave on a crucial piece of Brexit legislation.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson, who gave birth to a boy last month, accused the government of "cheating" the system as it sought to win two knife-edge votes on Tuesday night.

"Just how low will your government stoop?" she raged on Twitter.

Prime Minister Theresa May said her party's failure to uphold the so-called pairing deal was "done in error", but admitted it was "not good enough" and would not happen again.

Pairing is an informal agreement between MPs in opposing parties not to take part in a vote, thus allowing one of them to miss it without affecting the outcome.

Organised by the whips, who enforce party discipline, it is crucial for MPs who are ill or on maternity leave, as there is no system of proxy voting in parliament.

Swinson was "paired" with Conservative MP Brandon Lewis during Tuesday's votes on future trade policy after Brexit.

He abstained in some votes earlier in the day but took part in two in the evening, one of which the government lost and the other of which it won by just six votes.

Swinson said it was a "calculated, deliberate breaking of trust by government whips... to win at all costs".

Chief whip Julian Smith apologised for the "mistake", as did Lewis, and May told MPs that "we take pairing very seriously".

House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom said it was vital that new parents be able to spend time with their babies, but said there would be no inquiry as the incident would not have affected Tuesday's votes.

But other opposition MPs joined Swinson in expressing scepticism, with Labour women's spokesperson Dawn Butler saying it was an "absolutely appalling move".

Plans have been put forward for a system of proxy voting for new parents, but a debate is not due until later this year.

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Read more on:    theresa may  |  uk  |  brexit

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