Published: Fri, July 20, 2018

Tory chief whip Julian Smith under fire in pairing row

Tory chief whip Julian Smith under fire in pairing row

Pairing is a parliamentary convention by which pairs of MPs on different sides of the Commons agree not to vote so that an absence such as maternity leave does not count against a member.

Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat chief whip, called for Smith to take the unusual step of making a statement to the Commons in person to explain why the Tory MP who had been paired with Jo Swinson, who is on maternity leave, had voted in the two key amendments on Tuesday.

Mr Lewis said it had been an "honest mistake" in fast-moving circumstances.

Tory sources say Mr Smith "might have told" some MPs to break "short term" pairing deals but, if he did, none went through with it.

It said the two unnamed MPs both sought further advice and ignored the instruction.

The leader of the Commons told Streeting that she was one of three Conservative pairs for the votes on Tuesday, and speaking in defence of Smith: "I did not receive any call for anyone, telling me to vote". It won by six votes.

Accusing the Tories of "cheating", she said it was a "calculated, deliberate breaking of trust" by the Government whips to "win at all costs".

The Conservative Party did not deny the allegations.

Tom Watson, Labour's deputy leader, said: "If true, this is despicable behaviour which makes politics even more inaccessible for women. Julian Smith and Brandon Lewis must now resign or be sacked, and Theresa May must apologise for misleading the House".

The shadow equalities secretary Dawn Butler said: "We need a full, honest explanation of what's gone on".

Conservative MPs Anna Soubry, Peter Bone and Heidi Allen also raised concerns.

Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery said: "The Tories' story is changing by the minute as they desperately scramble to cover up their appalling actions".

"It wasn't good enough and will not be repeated". No matter how tough the going gets, principle, integrity and standards matter.

The chairman of the Conservative Party has apologised after he broke a pact with a Lib Dem MP who had given birth just days before.

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