A Tory boss has issued a grovelling apology to a Lib Dem MP and new mother after he broke a promise not to vote in last night’s Brexit showdown so she could stay at home with her newborn.
Jo Swinson, who gave birth to her son Gabriel two weeks ago, is on maternity leave so she missed the crucial parliamentary showdown.
Tory whips had agreed to ‘pair’ her with party chairman Brandon Lewis – meaning he would also skip the vote so Ms Swinson would not be punished for having a baby.
But Mr Lewis flouted the agreement and took part in the knife-edge vote on the customs union last night.
Tory bosses were terrified a Tory Remainer rebellion would inflict a humiliating defeat on the PM – leaving her Brexit plans and leadership in tatters.
In the end the Government squeaked home by just six votes – helped across the line by Mr Lewis’ ballot and the backing of a handful of Labour Leavers.
Mr Lewis and Tory chief whip Julian Smith last night issued a grovelling apology to the Lib Dem MP and claimed it was an honest mistake.
Jo Swinson (pictured with her partner Duncan Hames, her son Andrew and newborn son Gabriel ) is at home on maternity leave. She accuse d the Tories of cheating by braking an agreement to stop one of their MPs voting in last night’s crunch Brexit showdown so that she could stay home with her newborn on maternity leave
Brnadon Lewis (pictured left) voted last night – despite a deal not to. he and Tory chief whip Julian Smith (pictured right) apologised – insisting it was an honest mistake
Ms Swinson lashed the pair on Twitter and is demanding that Parliament’s rules are overhauled so mothers on maternity leave can get another MP to vote on their behalf.
Writing on Twitter last night, Ms Swinson said: ‘Just how low will your Government stoop Theresa May?
‘When Andrea Leadsom delayed proxy voting motions, she assured those of us who were pregannt that we wold be paoired when necessary.
‘Today your Government broke that agreement – Brandon Lewis paired with me bit voted. Desperate stuff.
‘This is calculated, deliberate breaking of trust by whips and chief whip Julian Smith to win at all costs.
‘Brandon abstained in afternoon divisions, but voted in the two crunch votes after 6pm. There’s a word for it – cheating.’
Jo Swinson – who is tipped as a future Lib Dem leader – accused the Tories if cheating in a series of furious Twitter posts
Tory chairman Brandon Lewis apologised on Twitter, but many doubted if he was telling the truth
Tory chief whip Julian Smith also apologised – but his apology was snubbed by Lib Dem Jo Swinson
The Lib Dem Mp said the blunder could not have been an honest mistake – but was intentional cheating
Mr Lewis scrambled to apologise to the MP, replying on Twitter: ‘I’m sorry Jo.
‘I think it was an honest mistake made by the whips in fast-moving circumstances. I know how important the pair is to everyone, especially new parents, and I apologise.
‘Also apologies for late reply, been speaking at an event.’
Furious Tory Remainers say Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg is now running Britain
Furious Tory Remainers claimed Jacob Rees-Mogg is running Britain today after failing to soften the government’s Brexit stance.
Rebels complained that Eurosceptics had hijacked Theresa May’s premiership after a knife edge vote on whether the UK should stay in the EU customs union.
The government fended off the bid to force her hand in negotiations with Brussels by just six votes – with a handful of Labour Brexiteers saving her from disaster.
Tory Remainer rebels mounted the attack on the Trade Bill after being incensed by Mrs May’s decision on Monday to swallow amendments that appeared to undermine her own Chequers blueprint for future trade links.
Former minister Anna Soubry said whips had threatened to trigger a general election if the government had lost the customs union vote.
She told the BBC radio 4 Today Programme: ‘These nonsenses of threatening general elections and votes of confidence in the Prime Minister and as I actually said to the deputy chief whip ‘bring it on’ because I shall be the first in the queue to give my vote of full confidence in the Prime Minster.
‘Problem is, I don’t think that she’s in charge anymore. I’ve no doubt Jacob Rees-Mogg is running our country.’
And Mr Smith – who is in charge of telling Tory MPs how to vote – and when to stay away from the division lobbies – also apologised.
He wrote: ‘Jo I am v sorry-I spoke to your [chief whip] earlier. A mistake – we pair consistently 4 pregnancy pairs.’
But when challenged by MS Swinson to explain exactly how Mr Lewis managed to accidentally vote in the crunch showdowns when he had correctly stayed away from votes earlier in the day, he stayed silent.
The row has sparked fury among MPs – with Labour and Tory MPs slamming the Tory frontbench for the blunder.
And it has fuelled demands for Westminster’s antiquated rules to be reformed so that the same does not happen to other mothers at home with their newborn babies.
An urgent question on the issue is being tabled in parliament today.
It means MPs will be able to quiz a minister on the blunder and demand to know how proposed reforms are coming along.
Tory MP Sarah Wollaston – chairwoman of the health select committee – said: ‘Who is taking responsibility for failing to honour the pairing agreement for Jo Swinson who is on maternity leave?
‘More than just an extension of the other heavy handed tactics on display, it disrespects women and why maternity leave matters.’
Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who wrote on Twitter: ‘So government refuses to bring in proxy voting for new mums.
‘Then promises they’ll do pairing instead? Then breaks promise to scrape through vote? Disgraceful on all fronts.
‘Disenfranchising MPs. Discriminating against women. Dishonest.’
The Prime Minister is meeting her Cabinet as she tries to stave off another existential challenge to her strategy for leaving the EU in the Commons