Dr Phillip Lee has been Bracknell’s MP for nearly 10 years, but who is he and what has he done?
The new Liberal Democrat candidate for Wokingham was selected as the Conservative candidate for Bracknell in 2009, in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal.
He was selected in an open primary, which included Rory Stewart and blogger Iain Dale, following the resignation of the then incumbent Andrew MacKay – married to fellow MP Julia Kirkbride.
They had claimed that their two homes were both second homes, rather than one being a main residence and the second used for parliamentary duties.
In 2008-09, MacKay claimed £23,083 under Additional Costs Allowance, while Kirkbride claimed £22,575.
They also claimed for each others’ travel costs.
Dr Lee effectively had to start again in the Bracknell constituency, helping the party rebuild trust following the damaging expenses scandal.
He won his seat in 2010, with a massive 52.4% share of the vote, increasing the majority that he has inherited – it went up from 12,036 to 15,704.
This increased again in 2015, to 20,650. In the 2017 election, his increased the number of people voting for him, but Labour doubled its vote to reduce his majority to “only” 16,016. It is still significantly more than that of his predecessor.
Over the past nine years, Dr Lee rose the ranks of the party, becoming justice minister when Theresa May became Prime Minister in the wake of the 2016 referendum.
He held this role for two years, before resigning because he increasingly found himself at odds with the way in which the Brexit negotiations were going.
In his resignation statement, he said: “For me, resigning is a last resort – not something that I want to do but something I feel I must do because, for me, such a serious principle is being breached that I would find it hard to live with myself afterwards if I let it pass.
“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.
“As a Member of Parliament, I also have a major responsibility to my constituency of Bracknell. In extensive consultations with local employers, both large and small, I have been warned that they expect Brexit as it is currently being pursued, whatever the negotiated settlement, will damage their business.”
He since helped launch Right To Vote, a Conservative campaign for a final say referendum. It was disbanded this summer.
At that launch, he said: “The public is sick and tired of politicians on all sides telling them half-truths – and in some cases, blatant untruths – about Brexit.
“They are absolutely fed up with the whole thing and they are looking to us to set out a clear way forward for the country.
“It’s not true, as some insist, that people just want us to ‘get on with it’, especially not at any cost. I think what people want is swift, fair and democratic solution to this sorry saga so that we can get back to meeting the challenges that in part fuelled the Brexit vote in the first place.”
He is also a firm advocate of avoiding a No-Deal Brexit.
In the same speech, he said: “No responsible Government can proceed with a no-deal exit. The implications of that are frankly terrifying”.
And he also took to task those who were threatening the MPs for their stance.
“We’ve been called traitors and saboteurs. We’ve been accused of trying to subvert democracy. Some of us have endured physical intimidation and death threats as we have gone about our work in Parliament, which we must not forget, is to exercise our best judgement in the interests of our constituencies and country.
“But we will not be stopped from doing what we think is right for those we are elected to serve.”
His support for a second referendum was summed up as: “There are clear consequences for the Conservative Party in denying the electorate a say and delivering a Brexit that does not command their support. What’s the right path for our country also happens to be the right path for our Party.”
And he made clear that he would be happy to bring people together in a cross-party capacity:
“We are of course willing to work with anyone, from any party and from none. I hope that will include even some of those who voted leave and support Brexit – this is not a campaign to overturn Brexit, far from it.”
However, this stance caused ire among staunch Brexiters, including the political campaign group Leave.eu, which was founded by Arron Banks and Richard Tice. They have been encouraging people to join local Conservative parties to force the deselection of MPs they feel are frustrating Brexit.
This happened in Bracknell: in June, 200 members gathered for a meeting where this was discussed. As a result, the party voted to deselect Dr Lee.
Afterwards, Dr Lee said that he would not be swayed by an “orchestrated, destructive campaign from outside the party” and that he would continue to serve Bracknell constituents “without fear or favour”.
This led to speculation that he would quit the Conservatives and this he finally did on September 3, 2019.
He did it in quite spectacular fashion.
As Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke from the despatch box in Parliament, television cameras captured the moment Dr Lee walked not to the Conservative benches in the House of Commons, but to the Liberal Democrat ones.
This ended the Government’s majority.
Dr Lee told Mr Johnson in his resignation letter: “Sadly, the Brexit process has helped to transform this once great [Conservative] Party in to something more akin to a narrow faction, where an individual’s ‘conservatism’ is measured by how recklessly one wishes to leave the European Union. Perhaps most disappointingly, it has increasingly become infected with the twin diseases of populism and English nationalism.”
In an interview with The Wokingham Paper, he said: “I’m now optimistic for the future of the Liberal Democrats, they can become a party of government, that has to be the goal of anybody in the Liberal Democrat Party.
“You don’t go into politics to make up the numbers, you go into politics to change the world, to change the country, to bring a, you know a brighter future for future generations. That is the purpose, as far as I’m concerned, of politics.
“Now we know that’s a challenging goal to want to achieve, but having belief in it is part of it.”
There was speculation as to where Dr Lee would stand in the forthcoming General Election: he admitted he still wanted to serve as an MP. There were whispers from day one that Wokingham would be where he would go, but Dr Lee said he didn’t know.
He said: “Genuinely, I mean, I would probably wouldn’t talk about it [if I knew], but actually, I don’t know. It wasn’t a careerist move [when I resigned]. It was a, it was a move based upon principle.
“It was based about putting people first, not myself. And so that’s a decision that has to be made of course and I want to remain a member of parliament.”
The only candidate confirmed for Bracknell is The Brexit Party’s David Winsper, while Wokingham Conservatives have reselected Sir John Redwood.
Dr Lee is also a medical doctor: he studied Human Biology and Biological Anthropology at King’s College, London and Keble College, Oxford, before studying Medicine at St Mary’s Hospital at Imperial College in London.
Although he was a hospital doctor he went on to become a GP and still practises on a part-time basis.