Sam Gyimah: Former Conservative minister launches blistering attack on Boris Johnson as he joins Lib Dems

Gyimah accused the Conservative party of 'veering towards English nationalism'

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Saturday 14 September 2019 20:20
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Former Conservative minister Sam Gyimah joins Liberal Democrats

Former Tory minister Sam Gyimah has defected to the Liberal Democrats as he launched a blistering attack on Boris Johnson and vowed to fight against the government’s “scorched earth approach” to Brexit.

Despite running for the Conservative leadership just two months’ ago, Mr Gyimah was unveiled as the pro-EU party’s newest MP at their conference opening rally in a major boost for new leader, Jo Swinson.

Welcomed on stage to a rapturous applause from thousands of activists, the former universities minister – considered a rising in star in Conservative ranks – said he was “never what you would call a typical Tory”.

The 43-year-old MP for the Tory stronghold of East Surrey was among 21 of his former colleagues to be stripped of the whip by the prime minister for voting against the government to give MPs control of the order paper and avoid a no-deal Brexit on 31 October.

He said his reason for joining the Liberal Democrats was because liberal values were “under threat”, adding: “We cannot perceive that our institutions and democracy are immune from populism and nationalism that has tainted other democracies.”

Explaining his decision, he went on: “What attracted me to the Conservative Party was these One Nation values. What has happened since the referendum, initially slowly, but increasingly accelerated over the last few months, is that it has moved away from those values. It has become more intolerant.”

Taking aim at Mr Johnson in an interview with The Observer, he continued: “There is a scorched earth approach to delivering Brexit by 31 October at the risk of our institutions, at the risk of our democracy, at the risk of our economy. That should never be allowed to happen.”

But his appointment could risk angering some Lib Dem activists, already dismayed at Dr Lee joining their ranks, after he caused controversy in 2016 for filibustering the Turing Bill – designed to pardon gay people convicted under now-abolished offences.

Lib Dem leader with EU parliament’s chief Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt

His defection takes the total tally of Liberal Democrat MPs to 18 – up from 12 after the 2017 election. Philip Lee, another former Conservative, crossed the floor of the Commons to join the Remain-backing party during Boris Johnson’s first prime minister’s questions a fortnight ago.

Ex-Labour MP Luciana Berger joined the party just days later, and told The Independent on the eve of the party’s conference she expected more to join as the deadline for Brexit grows nearer.

“I have had positive responses from many MPs from all sides of the House, telling me it was the right thing to do and saying it must be exciting to be party of the Liberal Democrats under Jo’s leadership,” she said. “That would lead me to believe that there are others contemplating a move.

“I would anticipate there will be some more, but until it happens it hasn’t happened.”

It comes as Ms Swinson prepares to ask Lib Dem members to sign off her policy on Sunday of revoking Article 50 without the need for a second referendum, if the party wins a majority at the next general election.

Appearing at the conference opening rally in Bournemouth, Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s chief Brexit coordinator, hailed Ms Swinson’s new policy as the “natural stance” for any party committed to stopping Brexit.

He told The Independent on Saturday: “As the European Court of Justice has determined, a decision to revoke would unilaterally end the Brexit process. This is the only way to stop Brexit, given that Article 50 has been triggered.”

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