Tory Chief Whip facing calls to resign over pairing agreements

The Times has accused the Tory Chief Whip Julian Smith of pressuring Conservative MPs to break their pairing agreements in order to vote on knife-edge Brexit amendments.

The scandal first came to light when it was revealed that Brandon Lewis, the Conservative Party Chair, had voted earlier this week despite being paired with Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson, who is on maternity leave.

When it was initially raised by Swinson and Labour, Lewis called it an "honest mistake by the whips", and Theresa May denied that it had been deliberate. However an investigation by the Times has seen the paper accuse Julian Smith of asking at least two other Conservative MPs to break off their agreements, though they both refused.

Dawn Butler MP, Labour's Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, responding to reports that the Tory Chief whip, Julian Smith, told MPs to defy pairing deals, said:

"If these reports are correct, the Tory whips, Brandon Lewis and even the Prime Minister have been telling untruths about their shocking move against an MP on maternity leave.

"Breaking a pairing arrangement was a desperate move by a collapsing government and makes politics even more inaccessible for women.

"We need a full, honest explanation of what's gone on. If they can't do so, surely the Chief Whip and Conservative Party Chair should resign."

Labour have also called for the pairing system to be abolished, and replaced with a real system of proxy voting for maternity and sick leave. This comes in the wake of an incident last month, when sick and hospitalised MPs were forced to vote in wheelchairs after the Tories broke precedent on parliamentary procedure.

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