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Tory chief whip Julian Smith, who demanded that Brandon Lewis break a ‘pairing’ agreement, and Jo Swinson, whose agreement was broken.

This is a betrayal of democracy.

Pairing is a longstanding convention in the House of Commons, where the whips of the government and an opposition party agree to allow MPs from one side to miss a vote because of personal reasons or official business. The other party agrees to hold back one of their MPs from voting so the two absences cancel each other out.

I was under the impression that such arrangements were treated as sacred; Parliamentary democracy is meaningless without them.

So I doubt the truth of the Tory statement that they have been broken 66 times in the current Parliament – 52 times by opposition parties. It’s easy to say but where is the proof?

Meanwhile we have clear evidence that the Tories have been abusing voting rules left, right and centre – for example, forcing Naz Shah to be wheeled through the lobby in a wheelchair while she was ill, because they refused to allow her vote to be counted otherwise.

The incident demonstrates the contempt Conservatives have for democracy.

They will go to any lengths to push their policies through, and if it means betraying the principle on which the Mother of Parliaments is built, that means nothing to them.

The Conservatives have been forced to admit that their chief whip asked MPs to breach Commons voting conventions in knife-edge Brexit votes on Tuesday, as opposition parties demanded he quit and queried the accuracy of the prime minister’s account of events.

Party sources conceded on Thursday night that Julian Smith had asked several Tory MPs to break pairing arrangements but most had refused to do so. The only one who did obey the instruction was paired to a Liberal Democrat MP who was on maternity leave.

They admitted that Smith had wanted some MPs to break “short-term” pairing arrangements, where a Tory is asked to skip a vote because an opposition member is unable to attend for good reason, but had made an error in asking the party chairman, Brandon Lewis, to vote because he was paired with Jo Swinson – who only recently gave birth.

Smith was under intense pressure to see off a Tory rebel amendment on Tuesday’s trade bill, which called for the UK to remain in a customs union with the EU if a free trade deal could not be negotiated quickly. The Conservatives narrowly won by six votes.

Labour called for Smith and Lewis to resign, and accused Theresa May of giving the Commons a misleading account of events when she said at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday that Lewis’s vote “was done in error”.

Source: Jo Swinson pairing row: Conservatives admit chief whip asked MPs to break arrangements | Politics | The Guardian

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