Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Tory MP Quits over 'Irreconcilable Differences' with Brexit Strategy; New By-Election Blow to May as She Tells EU Chiefs: We'll Stick to Timetable

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Tory MP Quits over 'Irreconcilable Differences' with Brexit Strategy; New By-Election Blow to May as She Tells EU Chiefs: We'll Stick to Timetable

Article excerpt

Byline: Joe Murphy and Kate Proctor

THERESA MAY was pitched into a second Brexit by-election today as a Tory MP resigned citing "irreconcilable differences" with her strategy on leaving the European Union.

Stephen Phillips said he was walking out of his true-blue Lincolnshire seat in protest that she was heading for a "hard Brexit". It means a second by-election for the Conservatives on top of the Richmond Park contest. If both were lost, her working majority of 15 would be slashed to 12 the same level John Major had at the beginning of his battles with backbench EU rebels that he dubbed "bastards".

The blow to Mrs May came a day after the High Court ruled against her plan to start the Brexit process by Royal Prerogative without Commons approval. She was phoning EU leaders to assure them that her timetable for triggering Article 50 by the end of March was unchanged.

However, Nick Clegg and other pro-EU figures said they would use a parliamentary vote to demand major concessions from her and reserved the right to stop Brexit.

Mr Phillips, a wealthy QC, is not expected to stand as an independent in his seat of Sleaford and North Hykeham, where he had a solid majority of 24,115 last year. Local party officials said he was "out of step" with them and were surprised by his move.

The area voted two-to-one for Brexit last June, unlike Zac Goldsmith's west London constituency where a majority voted Remain. Mr Phillips himself backed Leave, but has since pushed for a socalled soft Brexit in which Britain could remain in the single market and keep many EU rules. He has also objected to Mrs May's refusal of a Commons vote and is a critic of overseas aid.

In a statement, the MP said: "It has been a great honour to serve the people of Sleaford and North Hykeham for the last six years, but 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.

"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."

ONE of the contenders to replace Nigel Farage as leader of Ukip has pulled out of the race. London Assembly member Peter Whittle is withdrawing and supporting frontrunner Paul Nuttall. The other remaining candidates are Suzanne Evans and John Rees-Evans.

Earlier Mrs May phoned German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to insist her timetable for Brexit will stay on course.

The Prime Minister said she would not be derailed despite a warning from Mr Clegg, her former Lib-Dem coalition colleague, that MPs and peers would refuse to let Brexit go ahead except on "soft" terms and coupled with a pledge of yet another referendum. …

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