U.K. Chief Whip Faces Calls to Quit in New Headache for May

(Bloomberg) -- Just when it seemed she’d made it to the safety of a long summer vacation, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May was thrown into a fresh storm -- this time over the allegedly underhand tactics her most senior political enforcer used to win a crucial vote in Parliament.

Government Chief Whip Julian Smith is said to have told some Tory lawmakers to break an agreement with rival parties under which members of Parliament are excused if they are too ill to vote, or are unavoidably absent, according to the BBC.

Now Conservatives are growing increasingly angry at the breakdown in “tradition and trust” and are suggesting that Smith may have to resign if it’s true that he ordered lawmakers to break the convention. “If true this is appalling and those responsible must resign. If we cannot behave with honor we are nothing,” Anna Soubry, a Tory MP, tweeted on Thursday.

Peter Bone, a pro-Brexit Tory, said he was “very concerned” to hear that the convention was broken. Opposition MP Jo Swinson, who is away on maternity leave, was meant to be “paired” with Tory party chairman Brandon Lewis, which would have meant he didn’t vote in order that she wouldn’t need to.

But during Tuesday’s intense battle to get May’s customs bill through the House of Commons, Lewis did vote -- and helped to ensure the government won. Both Lewis and Smith have apologized for the “mistake,” while May herself has said it was not acceptable. The premier still has faith in Smith, her spokesman, Alison Donnelly, told reporters Thursday.

Speaking on condition of anonymity -- because government officials conventionally share responsibility -- one minister told Bloomberg: “There must be honor and trust in pairing.” Another agreed he had to go.

Parliamentary transcripts show Lewis took part in the two tight votes at 6:15 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, while honoring the pairing agreement in much less contentious votes on the same piece of legislation at 6:01 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Another senior Conservative stopped short of calling for the chief whip to quit but said there is a growing realization that Smith has broken one of the most important unwritten rules of whipping.

The Conservative Party headquarters was not immediately able to comment.

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