Norfolk MP Brandon Lewis in Brexit crunch vote ‘cheating’ row, but says it was ‘honest mistake’

Great Yarmouth Conservative MP Brandon Lewis. Picture: James Bass

Great Yarmouth Conservative MP Brandon Lewis. Picture: James Bass - Credit: James Bass

Norfolk MP Brandon Lewis has been accused of reneging on an agreement not to take part in key votes over Brexit.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson MP. Photo: Bill Smith

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson MP. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2013

Angry Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson criticised Great Yarmouth Conservative MP Brandon Lewis last night after he took part in two votes on the government's trade bill, including one which defeated Conservative rebels.

Ms Swinson was absent from the votes to look after her new-born son.

And, under House of Commons tradition, an MP who is unable to attend a vote can 'pair' with an MP from another party, who agrees to also miss the vote.

Ms Swinson said she had been 'paired' with Mr Lewis, who is also Conservative chairman, and accused the government of cheating when she realised he had voted.

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She tweeted: 'Just how low will your govt stoop @theresa_may? When @andrealeadsom delayed proxy voting motions, she *assured* those of us who were pregnant that we would be paired when necessary. 'Today your govt broke that agreement - @BrandonLewis paired with me but voted. Desperate stuff.'

She added: 'Don't try any nonsense about a mistake - this is calculated, deliberate breaking of trust by govt whips @JulianSmithUK to win at all costs.

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'Brandon abstained in afternoon divisions, but voted in the two crunch votes after 6pm. There's a word for it - cheating.'

In one of the votes, the government defeated an amendment to its Trade Bill, which Tory rebels were supporting, by 307 to 301.

If passed, it would have committed the government to a customs union with the EU, unless an alternative trade deal was thrashed out with Brussels by early next year.

Mr Lewis last night apologised, but said it was an 'honest mistake' by government whips.

He tweeted: 'I'm sorry Jo. I think it was an honest mistake made by the whips in fast-moving circumstances.

'I know how important the pair is to everyone, especially new parents, and I apologise.'

But Ms Swinson was not convinced. In reply she tweeted: 'Really? So what happened then? Take me through it.'

Tory chief whip Julian Smith also apologised he said it was 'a mistake', with Mr Lewis 'asked to vote in error.'

However Ms Swinson tweeted: 'It was neither honest, nor a mistake. Literally not credible that of nine votes today, Brandon Lewis 'forgot' that he was paired for the 2 crunch votes and those votes alone.'

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