A Conservative MP tasked with persuading other Tory MPs to vote for Theresa May’s Brexit deal has resigned his position as a government whip – so he can vote against it.
Dartford MP Gareth Johnson said on Monday afternoon that the prime minister’s agreement with the EU was “detrimental to our nation’s interest”.
In his resignation letter, he slammed May’s deal as “disrespectful to the referendum result”.
MPs are expected to vote down May’s maligned deal when it is put to the Commons on Tuesday evening.
As a whip, Johnson’s job had been to twist the arms of backbench Tory MPs to make them vote with the government.
He said in his letter to May today: “Along with nearly two thirds of my constituents and a majority of the country, I supported leave in the referendum as I wanted the UK to take back the sovereignty we had lost during our membership of the European Union.
“Unfortunately, this agreement prevents us taking back control and instead could leave us perpetually constrained by the European Union.”
Johnson added: “We need to rediscover our confidence and belief in our country’s ability to stand tall in the world without the European Union overseeing and managing our future.
“This is possibly the hardest decision I have ever made but I believe it is the right one for both my country and my constituents. ”
May issued a last-ditch plea for MPs to back her Brexit deal today, after Brussels chiefs issued a letter offering assurances that they do not want the controversial “backstop” to be permanent.
Speaking in a factory in Leave-voting Stoke-on-Trent, the prime minister said the letter from European Council president Donald Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker made clear that the backstop was “not a threat or a trap”.
And she said she was committed to working with MPs from across the Commons to ensure that workers’ rights and environmental standards were protected after Brexit.
But she admitted the assurances would not be enough to persuade many MPs to support her.
The Northern Irish backstop, which keeps the UK closely tied to Brussels rules, will be activated if the UK and EU fail to strike a trade deal that supersedes it.
Many pro-Brexit Tory MPs want the UK to have the power to withdraw from the backstop without EU approval, or for it to be legally time-limited.
But in its letters published this morning, Brussels did not agree to this.