Brexit: Tory MP defects ahead of crucial no-deal vote
Conservative MP Phillip Lee has defected to the Liberal Democrats ahead of a showdown between Boris Johnson and Tory rebels over Brexit.
Dr Lee, the MP for Bracknell, took his seat on the opposition benches as the PM addressed the Commons.
His defection means that Boris Johnson no longer has a working majority in the Commons.
He said the government was “pursuing a damaging Brexit in unprincipled ways.. putting lives and livelihoods at risk.”
Mr Johnson has vowed to leave the EU on 31 October with or without a deal, but a number of MPs against no deal have come together across party political lines to try to stop it happening.
They have submitted a motion for an emergency debate to Commons Speaker John Bercow, and if successful, they will bring forward a bill that would force the prime minister to ask for Brexit to be delayed until 31 January, unless MPs approve a new deal, or vote in favour of a no-deal exit, by 19 October.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Johnson told MPs he wanted a negotiated exit from the EU and insisted there was “real momentum” behind the talks with Brussels.
He said he would travel to Dublin on Monday for discussions with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, focused on proposed alternative arrangements to the Irish border backstop – a key sticking point in the negotiations.
But he said the moves by MPs, including Conservatives, to pass legislation effectively blocking a no-deal exit on 31 October would “destroy any chance of negotiating a new deal”.
If the rebels succeeded in their aims, he said it would force him to go to Brussels to “beg for another pointless delay” to Brexit and he would “never” do that.
“It is Jeremy Corbyn’s surrender bill. It means running up the white flag,” he added.
No 10 has said the prime minister will push for an election on 14 October if the MPs succeed.
Before Dr Lee’s defection, Mr Johnson only had a working majority of one in the Commons.
In a letter to the prime minister, Dr Lee said Brexit divisions had “sadly transformed this once great party into something more akin to a narrow faction in which one’s Conservatism is measured by how recklessly one wants to leave the European Union”.
“Perhaps more disappointingly, it has become infected by the twin diseases of English nationalism and populism.”
He said the Lib Dems – who back another referendum on Brexit and want the UK to remain in the EU – were best placed to “heal the divisions” and “overcome the challenges we face as a society.”