Digital minister James resigns after voting to block parliament suspension

Written by Sam Trendall on 18 July 2019 in News

DCMS minister one of a number of Tory rebels

Credit: UK Parliament/CC BY 3.0

Digital minister Margot James has resigned from her post after voting against the government. James was one of 17 Conservative MPs who supported a measure designed to block the possibility of the next prime minister suspending parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit. 

The amendment to the Northern Ireland Bill, which passed by 315 votes to 274, is designed to prevent the new PM effectively forcing a no-deal Brexit by proroguing parliament shortly before the 31 October deadline. Prorogation is the name given to the period of time between the conclusion of one session of parliament and the commencement of the next.

News reports have suggested that Boris Johnson could consider scheduling a Queen’s Speech for early November – meaning that parliament is prorogued for the period either side of the planned departure date, and MPs are thus unable to stop the UK leaving the EU without a deal.

The amendment voted on today by MPs is designed to prevent this from happening. In addition to James (pictured above) and the other Conservative MPs who voted against the government, there were also four Cabinet ministers who abstained: David Gauke; Rory Stewart; Greg Clark; and Philip Hammond.

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The chancellor tweeted: “The Conservative Party has always, at its core, had a fundamental belief in the importance of strong institutions – and in a representative democracy there can be no more vital institution than its parliament. It should not be controversial to believe that parliament be allowed to sit, and have a say, during a key period in our country’s history.”

Earlier this year, James told the BBC’s Today programme that she “couldn’t be part of a government that allowed the country to leave the European Union without a deal”, and that she would be willing to resign or face being sacked from the cabinet if the government pursued a no-deal Brexit.

Having defied the government in today’s vote, James made good on these words, and quit her post as minister for digital and the creative industries. 

Speaking to BBC Newsnight, James said: “Over the course of the last few months I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable about the way the rhetoric is developing on Brexit. My constituents voted to leave in Stourbridge – by 70%. So, I’ve honoured that commitment [and] voted for the prime minister’s deal three times. But when that couldn’t get through parliament then, obviously I became more and more worried that there was the potential to crash out with no deal at the end of October.”

She added: “The fact that Boris Johnson… is not ruling out proroguing parliament, I felt that this time – rather than just abstain – I would actually vote for the amendments that will make that more difficult. And I thought it was time to put my marker down.”

James held the role of digital minister for 18 months, and has been an MP since first being elected in her constituency of Stourbridge in the 2010 election.

Her replacement is yet to be announced.


About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology


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