British Justice Minister Phillip Lee Dramatically Resigns over Brexit Handling

Published June 13th, 2018 - 05:00 GMT
Justice minister Phillip Lee (Twitter)
Justice minister Phillip Lee (Twitter)

Theresa May's Brexit woes escalated today as justice minister Phillip Lee dramatically quit - accusing her of harming the country.

Dr Lee said he could not 'look his children in the eye' and support the way Brexit is 'currently being delivered'.

He also insisted he wanted to 'speak up for his constituents' - even though Eurosceptics pointed out his Bracknell seat voted 53 per cent to Leave in the referendum. 

The resignation, announced live on stage during a speech in London, heaped pressure on the PM just hours before she faces a series of knife-edge votes on the EU Withdrawal Bill later.

Amid rumours of more departures to follow, he urged fellow Tory MPs to back a push for a 'meaningful' vote on any final Brexit deal in the Commons later - and said there should be a second referendum.

He said: 'If, in the future, I am to look my children in the eye and honestly say that I did my best for them I cannot, in all good conscience, support how our country's exit from the EU looks set to be delivered.'  

The resignation is a massive blow for Mrs May, who this morning gathered her Cabinet in No10 ahead of the Commons showdown. Conservative rebels, Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems hailed the departure as a 'principled' stand.

But Downing Street tried to play down the impact, saying: 'His resignation is a matter for him and we thank him for his service.'

A source insisted there was no intention of making further concessions on the crucial Commons clash this afternoon. 'The Government's amendment today provides for a meaningful vote,' they said.

Brexiteers complained that Dr Lee was actually defying his own constituents - who voted 53-47 per cent to Leave in the referendum. 

Delivering his bombshell at a Bright Blue event in London today, Dr Lee said: 'I believe that the evidence now shows that the Brexit policy our government is currently pursuing, on the basis of the 2016 referendum, is detrimental to the people we are elected to serve.

'Certainly it now seem inevitable that the people economy and culture of my own constituency will be affected negatively.

'And I cannot ignore that it is to them that I owe my first responsibility as a member of Parliament.' 

Dr Lee also called for another national ballot on Brexit.

'When the Government is able to set out an achievable, clearly defined path - one that has been properly considered, whose implications have been foreseen, and that is rooted in reality and evidence, not dreams and dogma - it should go to the people, once again, to seek their confirmation,' he said. 

Tory backbencher Simon Clarke told MailOnline: 'MPs gave the British people the right to make this decision and they voted to leave the EU - including Philip Lee's own constituents in Bracknell by some 53 per cent.

'In my experience, whether people voted to leave or remain, they want us to get on with the job of delivering Brexit and are much more interested in our future after Brexit than they are in trying to refight the referendum or overturn the result.' 

Senior Tory Nigel Evans added: 'Bracknell folk voted out by a greater margin than the UK - we all stood on a manifesto only a year ago to deliver brexit and that is what the people now expect.

'We must not weaken the PMs hands in her discussions with Brussels so I hope Philip backs Theresa in the lobbies over the next two days despite any personal reservations he may hold.'



In fresh signs of Tory infighting, former minister Nick Boles took a swipe at David Davis for his threats to resign over the Brexit 'backstop' last week. 

Mr Boles insisted he did not agree with Dr Lee on holding a referendum, but admired his 'honesty and integrity'. 

'So much classier to resign on principle when nobody is expecting it, than to threaten resignation but never follow through,' he said. 

Dr Lee was was slapped down by Downing Street in January after breaking ranks to express concern about the economic impact of Brexit on the UK.

The comments came after a leaked government document suggested Britain would be worse off under every Brexit scenario.

Dr Lee said 'evidence, not dogma' should dictate the Government's approach to Brexit. 

But No10 said Dr Lee had been spoken to by chief whip Julian Smith and 'reminded it is better to express such views in private in future'. 

The Prime Minister's flagship legislation is on a knife edge as the government bids to reverse a slew of amendments imposed by the House of Lords.

The threat of catastrophic defeat for Mrs May seemed to have receded after Tory rebels agreed to put off a showdown over whether Britain should stay in a customs union with the EU.

But there is still a serious prospect that the government could lose on demands for parliament to be given a so-called 'meaningful vote' on any final Brexit deal.  

The Lords had insisted that Parliament be put in charge of negotiations if MPs did not accept the terms sealed with the EU, effectively undermining Mrs May's position.

Downing Street insisted today it will not accept a compromise tabled by former Cabinet minister Dominic Grieve, which would force the government to come up with a new strategy in the event of the Brexit deal being rejected, and put that to MPs again for approval.

David Davis this morning stepped up warnings that Britain's negotiating leverage would be seriously damaged if key amendments were not overturned.

Last night Mrs May delivered a direct warning to backbench Tory MPs that any defeats would encourage Brussels to turn the screw. 

Former education secretary Nicky Morgan, a leading Remainer, indicated she would support Mrs May in tomorrow's vote on an amendment designed to keep Britain in a customs union with the EU.

Mrs Morgan said she would back a compromise plan – with the words 'customs union' being replaced with 'customs arrangements' – adding that it would help 'buy time' for the Prime Minister ahead of a crunch Brussels summit at the end of this month. 

The fudge was put together by another former minister, Oliver Letwin.  Asked whether the deal was 'kicking the can down the road, Mr Letwin said: 'That is a very sensible thing to do.'

The big moments will come this afternoon – when MPs debate calls for Parliament to be given a so-called meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal – and tomorrow, when they debate the customs union. 

Tory whips are particularly anxious about the so-called 'meaningful vote' amendment, with rumours that concessions last week could be pushed further.

The outcome could rest on the position of a handful of Brexit-supporting Labour MPs.

Passing the amendment would mean a major shift away from the UK's existing constitutional settlement - which gives the executive powers to negotiate treaties. 

Mr Grieve told the BBC's Newsnight last night that he would be tabling a compromise proposal.

'I hope very much the government will look at that, because I think it provides a solution which would satisfy everybody,' he said. 

'If it's not accepted, I will have to consider very carefully tomorrow — I might well vote against the government. I've made that quite clear.'

Addressing the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs last night, Mrs May said: 'We must think about the message Parliament will send to the European Union this week. I am trying to negotiate the best deal for Britain.

'I am confident I can get a deal that allows us to strike our own trade deals while having a border with the EU which is as frictionless as possible. But if the Lords amendments are allowed to stand, that negotiating position will be undermined.'


This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

You may also like