Theresa May has been accused of a “shameless use of patronage” after the appointment of three Conservative MPs to the Privy Council.
The honour goes to former health minister Philip Dunne, former Public Accounts Committee chair Sir Edward Leigh and the head of the UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Sir Roger Gale.
Labour MP Virendra Sharma claimed the appointments were part of a “desperate” attempt by the Government to shore up support for the Prime Minister’s EU Withdrawal Agreement ahead of next month’s crucial vote in the Commons.
Eurosceptic Sir Edward was initially an outspoken critic of May’s deal, and tabled an amendment calling for the termination of the agreement if the EU refuses to remove a “backstop” arrangement for the Irish border by the end of 2021.
But following this month’s European Council summit, he told the Commons that “many of us who have been sceptical about the deal so far could be persuaded to vote for it”.
Describing his position as “unfashionably supportive” of the PM, Sir Edward, who represents Gainsborough, urged her in the December 17 debate to “keep calm and carry on”.
Ludlow MP Dunne and North Thanet MP Sir Roger have both said they will support May’s deal in the vote scheduled for the week of January 14.
Sharma, a supporter of the Best for Britain campaign for a second EU referendum, said: “Using the cover of Christmas recess to appoint MPs to the Privy Council is a shameless abuse of patronage.
“It all raises serious questions about how the government are using all the perks at their disposal.
“They are clearly doing this in a desperate attempt to try and twist arms for the meaningful vote.”
Formally, members of the Privy Council act as advisers to the monarch, but in practice only a handful of the 600-plus counsellors attend regular meetings with the Queen.
The full council is convened only on very rare occasions, such as the death of the monarch.
Membership allows senior politicians and former politicians to be briefed on confidential information “on Privy Council terms”.
Dunne has been MP for Ludlow since 2005, Sir Edward MP for Gainsborough since 1983 and Sir Roger MP for North Thanet since 1983.
A statement released by 10 Downing Street said: “The Queen has been pleased to approve that Sir Edward Leigh MP, Philip Dunne MP and Sir Roger Gale MP be sworn of Her Majesty’s most Honourable Privy Council.”
What is the Privy Council?
The Privy Council dates back to Norman times and is one of the oldest parts of government. These days, however, the Privy Council is simply the mechanism through which interdepartmental agreement is reached on those items of government business which, for historical or other reasons, fall to ministers as Privy Counsellors rather than as Departmental Ministers. Although members of the Privy Council are appointed for life, only Ministers of the current government participate in its day-to-day business and they are accountable to parliament for all matters conducted through the Privy Council.