Phillip Lee, a Tory MP, has just left the party in the most dramatic way possible. He crossed the floor of the House of Commons while Boris Johnson was speaking.
For a few seconds the House didn’t realise what was happening, then, as Lee took his new seat next to Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, cheers broke out, drowning out Johnson.
The Prime Minister’s statement was, at this stage, largely about the rainforests and conservation, which seemed rather at odds with what was going on politically. The government has just lost its working majority.
Lee has been on defection watch for months. It is not a huge surprise that he has defected, as he had originally been named as one of the Tories likely to join the Independent Group. He has now joined the Lib Dems. He might not be the last.
Johnson’s actual statement was greeted with rowdy hilarity from the opposition benches. He even had to insist that those opposite ‘pay attention’ to his explanation of why he thought European leaders wanted to reach an agreement. This was his central pitch: MPs shouldn’t vote for the rebel legislation because they should let him get a deal.
It does, though, appear that the government is happy to lose this vote. From conversations with the rebel MPs, there’s a sense that they didn’t really get much sincere engagement in their meetings with the Prime Minister this morning. That has been rather underlined by a conversation they had with Johnson’s top aide Dominic Cummings just before the meeting, who said he had no idea who any of them were. Cummings is famously blunt, but these are not the sort of things that even a blunt person would say if they were trying to charm people into agreeing with them.