POLITICS
19/07/2018 12:14 BST | Updated 19/07/2018 12:27 BST

Theresa May Backs Her Chief Whip Amid Reports He Lied About Maternity Leave Voting Pact

Senior Labour figures say Julian Smith should resign.

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Conservative Party Chief Whip Julian Smith in Downing Street in London on July 9, 2018

The Prime Minister has backed her Chief Whip Julian Smith amid claims he deliberately broke a voting pact during a knife-edge Brexit vote. 

A spokeswoman for Downing Street told reporters on Thursday that Theresa May had full confidence in Smith, despite reports in The Times that he went behind Lib Dem Jo Swinson’s back and ignored a Parliamentary convention known as ‘pairing’.

Brandon Lewis, the chairman of the Conservative Party, was not supposed to vote on key amendments to the Trade Bill on Tuesday as he had an agreement with Swinson - who is on maternity leave - not to.

His votes helped Theresa May to narrowly avoid a defeat which could have triggered calls for a vote of no confidence.

But the No 10 spokeswoman repeated the PM’s statement to MPs on Wednesday that the pairing was broken “in error” and “it shouldn’t have happened and it isn’t good enough”. 

Lewis and Smith apologised and claimed it was a mistake, but senior Labour figures say if reports they lied are accurate then both should resign.

Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, repeated today that “it was an error”.

And she told MPs that she herself had been paired on Tuesday evening and did not receive any calls telling her to vote in breach of the agreement.

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Liberal Democrats candidate Jo Swinson at the party's new East Dunbartonshire campaign HQ.

Dawn Butler, Labour’s shadow women and equalities minister, said if The Times report was true then Lewis, Smith and May were guilty of “telling untruths about their shocking move against an MP on maternity leave”.

“Breaking a pairing arrangement was a desperate move by a collapsing government and makes politics even more inaccessible for women,” she added.

“We need a full, honest explanation of what’s gone on. If they can’t do so, surely the Chief Whip and Conservative Party Chair should resign.”

A spokesperson for the Lib Dems said the government’s account of what happened was “at complete odds” with story in The Times.

“The Conservatives have clearly broken the pairing convention and possibly misled Parliament in calling the vote ‘a mistake’,” the spokesperson said.

“The breaking of that convention means we must break another. The Tory Chief Whip must make a statement to the House and be accountable for this mess.”

Tory MP Heidi Allen said this morning: “I sincerely hope this isn’t true. No matter how tough the going gets, principle, integrity and standards matter. Without those, what’s left?”