Tory chief whip hits out at cabinet for ‘ill-discipline’

Tory chief whip Julian Smith appears in a new BBC documentary. Photograph: BBC

Tory chief whip Julian Smith appears in a new BBC documentary. Photograph: BBC - Credit: Archant

Theresa May's Commons enforcer has criticised the government's approach to Brexit and attacked cabinet members over the 'worst example of ill-discipline in British political history'.

In a highly unusual move, Julian Smith, the Tory chief whip, spoke out to suggest ministers had pursued the wrong strategy after the prime minister lost the Conservatives' Commons majority in the 2017 snap election.

Smith said the result of the poll meant that May simply did not have enough MPs to back a harder version of Brexit.

The comments were published by the BBC amid speculation that parliament may force the PM to seek membership of a customs union with Brussels in order to pass her deal, which would mean ripping up one of her key red lines.

'The thing that people forget is that the Conservative Party went to get a majority in order to deliver Brexit (and) failed to get a majority,' the chief whip said.

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'The government as a whole probably should just have been clearer on the consequences of that. The parliamentary arithmetic would mean that this would be inevitably a softer type of Brexit.'

While the strategy was apparently misjudged, Smith said he was 'frustrated' by MPs who 'don't see the light as clearly as I do'.

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May's deal has now fallen three times in the Commons, with Tory MPs among those who voted against it on each occasion.

However Smith highlighted that a lack of discipline extended all the way to the Cabinet, with ministers 'sitting around the cabinet table ... trying to destabilise her (Mrs May)'.

'This is I think the worst example of ill-discipline in Cabinet in British political history,' he said.

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