Conservative Minister Phillip Lee Quits Over Brexit in Major Blow To Theresa May

He has called for a referendum on the final Brexit deal.

Justice Minister Phillip Lee has quit the Government just hours before crunch votes on Brexit.

The Bracknell MP, who backed Remain in the EU Referendum, announced on Twitter he was stepping down from the post he had held since July 2016.

He only told Theresa May he was quitting minutes before a meeting of the Cabinet at 9.30.

Lee’s resignation has prompted rumours that other Government ministers could follow, with one Remain-backing Tory MP telling HuffPost UK: “Questions is whether the others we know feel the same will go.”

In statement on his website, Lee said he was quitting in protest at Government attempts to restrict the role MPs will play in the final Brexit deal.

He said: “The main reason for my taking this decision now is the Brexit process and the Government’s wish to limit Parliament’s role in contributing to the final outcome in a vote that takes place today.

“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.”

Lee said the EU and UK should “pause, extend or revoke Article 50 so that we do not leave before we are ready”, and added his voice to calls for a referendum on the deal.

“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 wrote.

In a speech to the Bright Blue think tank on Tuesday morning, 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.”

<em>Phillip Lee has spoken out about his Brexit concerns before.</em>
Phillip Lee has spoken out about his Brexit concerns before.

Lee faced a dressing down by Tory whips in January after he said the Government’s Brexit policy should be driven by “evidence not dogma”, and his resignation is a blow to Theresa May’s attempt to unify her party ahead of a series of crucial votes on her Brexit plans.

At 4pm on Tuesday, MPs are due to vote on whether to back a beefed-up ‘meaningful vote’ on the deal negotiated with Brussels.

Under the plans, fiercely opposed by the Government, Parliament would have the power to reject the deal and then set the terms for any future negotiation.

Addressing a meeting of her MPs on Monday evening, May urged those thinking of rebelling to hold off, saying: “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.”

<em>Theresa May is facing a crunch vote on her Brexit plans</em>
Theresa May is facing a crunch vote on her Brexit plans
PA Wire/PA Images

Brexit Secretary David Davis repeated the warning on the BBC this morning, adding: “A meaningful vote is not the ability to reverse the decision of the referendum.

It comes as Dominic Grieve, one of the leading pro-EU Tory rebels, tabled a last minute amendment to the bill

Under the plan put forward by the former attorney general, the government would have until the end of November to reach a Brexit deal.

If this timeline runs out ministers would then have to put down a motion in the Commons detailing what the next moves would be and ask MPs to approve it.

And if no deal is reached by the middle of February 2019, parliament would take control of the negotiations.

Grieve told BBC Newsnight on Monday evening he hoped the Government would compromise and accept his amendment.

“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,” he said.

In a boost for May, a full-blown showdown on the customs union has been postponed until trade legislation returns to the Commons in July.

A compromise amendment was put together by pro-EU Tories Sir Oliver Letwin and Nicky Morgan and Brexiteers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Sir Bill Cash, which called for “a customs arrangement” with the EU.

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