Tory rebellion? MP resigns over Theresa May’s handling of Brexit

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May walks out of the Foreign Office towards Downing Street with Nigel Casey, Private Secretary for Foreign Affairs to the Prime Minister, in London, October 14, 2016. © Hannah McKay
A general election could be on the horizon as a Tory rebellion kicks off with the resignation of Stephen Phillips MP over “growing and very significant policy differences” with Theresa May’s government.

The Sleaford & North Hykeham MP, who worked as a lawyer and a judge before election to Parliament in 2010, was an open Leave supporter. However, he is also thought to back calls for Brexit to be debated in parliament before serious negotiations commence.

Phillips has been critical of the Cabinet’s preference for a “hard Brexit” as he believes Britain should remain in the single market.

“It has become clear to me over the last few months that my growing and very significant policy differences with the current government mean that I am unable properly to represent the people who elected me,” Phillis said in a statement.

“This decision has been a difficult one and I hope that everyone will respect the fact that I have tried to act in the best interests of all of my constituents.”

The announcement comes after May prepared to take an appeal to the Supreme Court on a ruling taken by High Court judges not to give the government a royal prerogative on Brexit negotiations.

If the government’s case is supported by the Supreme Court, MPs will once again be barred from debating Brexit before Article 50 is triggered and the formal exiting process is put in motion.

Phillips is the second Conservative MP to quit on May’s watch after Zac Goldsmith stepped down over the government’s decision to expand Heathrow airport.

It is as yet unknown whether Phillips will contest his seat in the coming by-election, where he last won with a majority of 20,000 votes, closely followed by the UK Independence Party (UKIP) candidate.

After Wednesday’s decision in the High Court bookies have been swift to slash odds on a general election being held in 2017.

“Punters rushed to back an early election,” said a Ladbrokes spokesperson after slashing the odds to 2/1.

After the High Court judgement came out several Remain supporters in parliament urged cabinet members to share information on the Brexit negotiations and to seek the approval of the House of Commons.

But two former ministers and “hard Brexit” supporters seemed to think it would best for May to call a general election instead.

One-time work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith told The Times the Prime Minister has “no other option but to go to the country” if MPs stall the Brexit process.

“Anything that risks having 650 people [MPs] in the process would be utter chaos,” he added.

Former justice minister Dominic Raab echoed the sentiment saying: “The elephant in the room here is if we get to the stage where [MPs] are not willing to allow this negotiation to even begin. I think there must be an increased chance that we will need to go to the country again.”

Opposition politicians insisted the parliamentary debate would not scrap or delay Brexit, but some believed a second referendum could be on the cards. Former Labour leadership contender Owen Smith said: “Labour should amend the Article 50 bill to give people the final say on the real terms of Brexit. Or I will seek that from the back benches.”

Theresa May is holding talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Friday.