Digital Minister Margot James was one of 17 Conservative MPs to rebel against the government last week, in a vote that aims to stop the future Prime Minister from suspending - or proroguing - Parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit at the end of October.
The UK is currently set to leave the European Union on 31st October. However, every vote for a no-deal Brexit has been blocked by Parliament up until this point. As a result, the likely winner of the Tory leadership contest, Boris Johnson, has suggested that proroguing Parliament may be used as a mechanism to stop MPs from forcing further delays to the Brexit date.
The results of the Tory leadership contest - and consequently who be next Prime Minister - are being announced tomorrow. It is widely anticipated that the winner will be Boris Johnson, who has said that Britain must leave the EU by 31st October, come what may.
James, along with sixteen of her Conservative colleagues, voted for an amendment to the Northern Ireland bill, which essentially requires Parliament meet and debate the progress of talks on restoring the Northern Ireland assembly, thus ensuring Parliament can’t be suspended for any significant amount of time in the run up to October.
The amendment passed by 41 votes, with 315 MPs backing it and 274 opposed. As well as the 17 rebel Conservative MPs voting for it, four Cabinet Ministers also abstained.
James has been Minister for Digital and Creative Industries since 2018, taking on the role after Matt Hancock got promoted to the Department for Health and Social Care.
In a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, James said that whilst she has never found it easy to vote to leave the EU, but that she has done so on every occasion when the vote has been put to Parliament. However, the Minister said that proroguing Parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit was a step too far. James said:
Although the leadership election has yet to conclude, the fact that Boris Johnson has made such uncompromising commitments to a “do or die” Brexit by OCtober 31st with or without a deal is concerning enough.
But then not to rule out the possibility of proroguing Parliament in order to secure that outcome, if he can’t agree a new deal in less than four months, is simply a bridge too far for me.
Therefore I felt I had to support efforts in Parliament today that may help to prevent that from happening in the Autumn, and as a consequence I have accepted the need to resign from my position in government.
James added that she believes that leaving without a deal would be a “disaster for this country”, stating that turning our backs on our biggest trading partner (the EU) would make us “dangerously dependent on the US at the very worst possible time”.
Whether we like or not there are three principle economic powers in the world today; China, the US and the EU. To go from the position of one of the three most powerful countries in the EU to being without even a formal security and trading relationship with the EU, or anybody else, is reckless in the extreme.
James finished by saying that she finds it “incredible” that she has colleagues in the Conservative government who find it acceptable to go against the views of “virtually every business organisation, representing every sector of the economy”, in their willingness to countenance leaving the EU without a deal.
The Minister also noted in her letter the importance of a deal - particularly a transition period - to ensure an adequacy decision from the EU that will be needed for the seamless transfer of data when the UK becomes a third country.