Phillip Lee struck a sorrowful tone when he spoke in the Commons this afternoon, explaining why he had felt it was necessary to resign over Brexit. The Bracknell MP was congratulated for his “courage” as he spoke by his two vocally pro-Remain colleagues, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston. He also received some applause as he sat down.
Lee took care as he spoke to argue that this resignation was not about a plan to destabilise the government or Theresa May, but because he could not abide by collective responsibility given his disquiet about the direction in which Brexit is heading. “I fully support Theresa May,” he insisted, but said that the current proposals from the government would represent a “breach of human rights and parliamentary sovereignty”. Already there are noises off about the possibility that yet more ministers might resign in the coming days, but Lee gave no clues of this.
Leaving ministerial office was, he argued, a huge sacrifice. But it is also a huge boost to the Remainers, as it suggests that this threatened revolt is not just about a hardcore of malcontents. Lee’s strategy in his speech was clearly to underline that, too: by focusing on the principles rather than lambasting the government, he was trying to encourage other would-be rebels that this wouldn’t be a dangerous move that could destabilise the government.