The Wokingham Paper

WESTMINSTER DIARY: After a chaotic week, I was still right to have resigned


Last week, many of you may have viewed the scenes from the House of Commons and felt that our great institution was descending into confusion and disarray.

However, let me assure you, the TV pictures do not represent the full picture – the situation on the ground was far more chaotic.

It is with no sense of exaggeration when I state that last week will rank as one of the most remarkable in Parliament’s history.

On Tuesday, the quietest of the days, the government lost its vote on the Withdrawal Agreement by just 149, a significant improvement on the January result.

It wasn’t until Wednesday that things really began to deteriorate. The Government’s first defeat, on a motion to rule out a No Deal Brexit, resulted, to some extent, from a number of Cabinet ministers abstaining from the vote and refusing to back the government’s position.

In the next vote, an even greater number of Cabinet ministers (from the other side of the argument) went the whole hog and voted against the Government, although this time it won the vote.

Finally, as result of the first defeat, we MPs were instructed by the Government to vote against its own motion, which ministers had been speaking in favour of in the debate that had just taken place.

On Thursday, chaos descended into farce. I won’t go through the whole process, but suffice it to say the Government won the vote on its motion to extend Article 50 entirely thanks to the support of opposition MPs.

Meanwhile, it was opposed by numerous Cabinet ministers, including the Brexit Secretary who minutes before had closed the debate by speaking on behalf of the government. The Chief Whip, who is responsible for ensuring how Conservative MPs vote, decided to abstain.

It is not without irony that many of those who proclaim that we must enact Brexit because it was the majority decision in the referendum are unwilling or unable to similarly follow majority decisions of a Cabinet of which they are a member.

It gives me no satisfaction to know that this situation is exactly what I predicted would happen when I resigned. At that time, I told a leading Brexiter MP that we would likely end up walking through the same voting lobby as we both recognised that the Brexit being offered was not what had been promised, either during the campaign or afterwards.

People have asked me whether, in hindsight, I regret my decision to resign as, since then, ministers have felt able to oppose Government policy whilst remaining part of that Government. My answer is No.

I resigned because I felt, and still feel, that was the principled thing to do. I did not feel I could pick and choose which parts of the Government’s policies I wanted to support.

Collective responsibility is not just an abstract concept, it is the glue that holds our Governments together – it needs to be restored … and quickly.

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