Brexit: Plan to cancel commons recess branded PR stunt after Tory MPs told they can still go away

Chief whip Julian Smith informed Conservative MPs they could still go away following unrest on the backbenches

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Thursday 31 January 2019 20:41
Andrea Leadsom announces MPs to stay in parliament to solve EU withdrawal chaos as February recess cancelled

The cancellation of MPs’ two-week break to deliver Brexit on time has been branded a PR stunt after Conservatives were told they could still go away if they had “family” commitments.

On Thursday commons leader Andrea Leadsom formally ditched the half-term recess so more “progress” can be made on preparing to leave the EU.

But following a backlash from MPs who had apparently already booked holidays, chief whip Julian Smith informed Tories they are not obliged to attend the commons if they have pre-existing engagements.

As news of the move trickled out, Labour MP Ian Murray, a supporter of the pro-EU Best for Britain campaign, said: “The cancelling of February recess is the right thing to do but it must be done for a purpose.

“There’s supposedly masses of legislation needed before the end of March, but it seems the government isn’t even trying to do the important stuff in that week. It looks like a slimy PR move.”

SNP MP Pete Wishart joked that the announcement had gone down like a “bucket of sick” as many MPs had already booked skiing trips.

Kirsty Blackman, the SNP’s Treasury spokeswoman, said: “The UK government have dithered and pulled votes and held no deal over our heads.

“They’re now threatening their MPs with cancelling the recess if they can’t get agreement.”

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is understood to have received enquires from MPs about whether they could get their costs reimbursed immediately after the announcement, and were told they could not.

With unrest among Tory ranks growing, Mr Smith reassured MPs they could request a pass if they had already scheduled medical treatment, constituency business, cross-party delegations or family events for the week.

In a statement earlier in the day, Ms Leadsom apologised to MPs for ‘inconvenience’ and keeping them away from constituency work, during the week which could be used to start legislating for a deal if one is approved by MPs on February 14.

Keeping Parliament open for an extra week also allows ministers to push through hundreds of pieces of secondary legislation for Brexit, a process which looks behind schedule.

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She promised anyone who had made firm commitments might be able to keep them by being ‘paired’ with an MP from the other side.

The Independent already reported at the start of the month how Brexit May have to be delayed even if Ms May secures a deal, because there is not enough time to pass all the legislation needed to leave safely.

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