An MP On Maternity Leave Says The Tory Chair "Cheated" By Voting On Brexit

    Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson said the Tories broke a "pairing" deal while she was at home with a 2-week-old baby.

    Andrew Matthews / PA Wire / PA Images

    Jo Swinson

    An MP at home with a 2-week-old baby has accused the Tories of a "calculated, deliberate breaking of trust" after they broke a "pairing" deal not to vote on Brexit on Tuesday night.

    Jo Swinson, a Liberal Democrat MP, had been told by government whips that she had been paired with Tory party chair Brandon Lewis – but contrary to the agreement, he voted on key amendments in the House of Commons.

    Under the pairing system, the whips match up absent MPs of opposing sides to effectively cancel each other out. There is no formal maternity leave for MPs, so this is the only way new mothers are able to make sure the vote is fair.

    A Whitehall source told BuzzFeed News that it was an "honest mistake" by Lewis.

    They pointed out that both Cat Smith and Laura Pidcock, two Labour MPs also on maternity leave, had been successfully paired by the government whips.

    "We honoured the Labour pairs – this was an honest mistake," the source said. "And of course it wouldn't have made any difference to the result."

    But critics, including Swinson herself, were sceptical that it was a mistake – pointing out that while Lewis had abstained earlier in the day, he had voted in the two knife-edge divisions after 6pm.

    Just how low will your govt stoop @theresa_may? When @andrealeadsom delayed proxy voting motions, she *assured* those of us who were pregnant that we would be paired when necessary. Today your govt broke that agreement - @BrandonLewis paired with me but voted. Desperate stuff. https://t.co/CcgF7z8MOV

    Swinson accused the government of "cheating" and said it was time to put proper measures in place to allow MPs on maternity leave to cast a proxy vote in the House of Commons.

    Don't try any nonsense about a mistake - this is calculated, deliberate breaking of trust by govt whips @JulianSmithUK to win at all costs. Brandon abstained in afternoon divisions, but voted in the two crunch votes after 6pm. There's a word for it - cheating. https://t.co/JwRkvglKKX

    Labour former acting leader Harriet Harman has proposed a new system of "baby leave" for MPs – which would allow imminent or new parents to nominate someone to cast their vote for them. But so far the plans have been kicked into the long grass.

    Shadow women's minister Dawn Butler said the fact Lewis voted was "absolutely appalling" and called on him to apologise.

    Absolutely appalling move by the Conservative Party chairman. Parliament needs to be dragged into the 21st century and Brandon Lewis must personally apologise for his role in making politics even more inaccessible for new mums. @theresa_may! https://t.co/qe7TJ8ZbuU

    Tory MP Sarah Wollaston also demanded answers, saying the tactics "disrespect women".

    Who is taking responsibility for failing to honour the pairing agreement for @joswinson who is on maternity leave? More than just an extension of the other heavy handed tactics on display, it disrespects women and why maternity leave matters.

    UPDATE

    Brandon Lewis later tweeted an apology to Swinson, insisting it was an "honest mistake" made by the whips.

    @joswinson @theresa_may @andrealeadsom I’m sorry Jo. I think it was an honest mistake made by the whips in fast-moving circumstances. I know how important the pair is to everyone, especially new parents, and I apologise. Also apologies for late reply, been speaking at an event.

    Chief whip Julian Smith also later apologised to Swinson, reiterating that Lewis had been asked to vote "in error".

    Jo I am v sorry-I spoke to your CW earlier. A mistake - we pair consistently 4 pregnancy pairs - @BrandonLewis was asked to vote in error. https://t.co/BYRmprapGn



    Emily Ashton is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

    Contact Emily Ashton at emily.ashton@buzzfeed.com.

    Got a confidential tip? Submit it here