Tory MP Stephen Phillips resigns over Theresa May’s handling of Brexit and single market uncertainty

The MP has triggered a by-election in his seat

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A Conservative MP has resigned with immedate effect, citing “irreconcilable policy differences” with Theresa May – as divisions in the Conservative party over Brexit begin to strain.

Stephen Phillips QC, the MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham, said he could no longer represent his consituents because of Theresa May’s policy direction since she came to office. 

Last month the MP wrote an article in which he said said he hoped that after Brexit Britain would “remain in the single market to which the manifesto of every major political party at the last election committed us”. The Government has however indicated that single market membership is unlikely to continue after Britain leaves the bloc.

“It has been a great honour to serve the people of Sleaford and North Hykeham for the last six years, but it has become clear to me over the last few months that my growing and very significant policy differences with the current Government mean I am unable to properly represent the people who elected me," he said in a statement issued on Friday morning.

"This decision has been a difficult one and I hope that everyone will respect the fact that I have tried to act in the best interests of all my consituents."

A Downing Street source said Mr Phillips had not spoken to the Prime Minister before he resigned.

Mr Phillips, a former member of Parliament's European Scrutiny Committee, voted in favour of leaving the European Union, though he later said he did not believe Leave had “stood much of a chance”.

He told his consituents before the 23 June referendum that he would have preferred Britain to stay in inside a “reformed European Union focused on trade” but that David Cameron’s reforms did not go far enough to secure this.

He has been MP for his consituency since 2010 and was re-elected in 2015. 

Mr Phillips’s seat will now be the subject of a by-election, with his own party the solid favourites to win again. He won 56 per cent of the vote in 2015, compared to 17.3 per cent for the Labour Party and 15.7 per cent for Ukip. The Liberal Democrats won 5.7 per cent of the vote.

The MP is the third Conservative MP to resign their seat in the past two months, following Zac Goldsmith and David Cameron. Asked about the resignation, the Prime Minister's official spokesperson said: “That is a matter for my political colleagues.”