Justice minister in Theresa May's government resigns over Brexit

  • Justice Minister Philip Lee resigns and pledges to vote against Theresa May on Brexit.
  • The MP says he will back a knife edge vote designed to give parliament the power to vote down May’s Brexit deal.
  • The resignation comes as the Commons prepare to take part in crunch votes on the Brexit bill.
  • Lee resigns despite a last-minute plea by May to her party for unity on the issue.

LONDON – Justice minister Dr Phillip Lee has resigned from Theresa May’s government just hours before a series of crunch votes on amendments to the prime minister’s flagship Brexit legislation.

Lee, who was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, has quit the front bench so he can vote against the government on the “meaningful vote” amendment.

The MP for Bracknell, who has been a minister since 2016, said the government’s Brexit strategy was “detrimental” to the British people.

In a full statement later posted on his website, Lee said his resignation was a protest against the government’s attempts to limit the role of MPs in shaping what sort of Brexit Britain will have.

“The main reason for my taking this decision now is the Brexit process and the Government’s wish to limit Parliament’s role in contributing to the final outcome in a vote that takes place today,” he said.

“If, in the future, I am to look my children in the eye and honestly say that I did my best for them I cannot, in all good conscience, support how our country’s exit from the EU looks set to be delivered.”

He also warned that Britain “would not be ready in time” for Brexit and called for a referendum on the terms of the final deal.

Lee’s resignation came shortly after he gave a speech to the Bright Blue think tank on Tuesday morning in which he expressed concern over how his party was handling Brexit.

“I believe that the evidence now shows that the Brexit policy our Government is currently pursuing on the basis of the 2016 referendum is detrimental to the people we are elected to serve,” he said.

Earlier this year, Lee was disciplined by Conservative MPs for describing the government’s Brexit policy of being based on “dogma” in a thread of Tweets.

He was a passionate campaigner for Britain to remain the European Union and now is expected to use his freedom to join other Conservative MPs who plan to vote against the government on the meaningful vote amendment.

The meaningful vote amendment is where the government is most likely to be defeated in votes on up to 15 amendments taking place today and on Wednesday. MPs will vote on this particular amendment this afternoon.

In practice, the amendment would give MPs and Lords the power to decide what happens should they decide to reject the Brexit deal May hopes to bring back from Brussels later this year.This means MPs and Lords could tell May to go back to negotiating table and get something better.

Lee’s resignation will come as a warning sign to May that she could be set for a humiliating defeat later today.

On Monday, she used a meeting of Conservative MPs to warn them that voting against the government would undermine her negotiating position.

“I am trying to negotiate the best deal for Britain,” she told MPs. “I am confident I can get a deal that allows us to strike our own trade deals while having a border with the EU which is as frictionless as possible.

“But if the Lords amendments are allowed to stand, that negotiating position will be undermined.”

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