A senior Tory has apologised for breaking an agreement not to vote in key House of Commons votes so a Liberal Democrat MP could care for her newborn son.
Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis said sorry to Lib Dem deputy leader Jo Swinson for reneging on a “pairing” deal on crunch Brexit votes on Tuesday night.
Under House of Commons tradition, an MP from one party who is unable to attend a parliamentary vote can ask for a “pair” from another party, an agreement that sees one of their MPs also miss the vote.
Ms Swinson, who recently gave birth to her son Gabriel, reacted furiously on Tuesday when Mr Lewis – supposed to have been “paired” with her – was revealed to have voted in two knife-edge divisions on the government’s Trade Bill.
In the more significant of the votes, Theresa May survived a Tory Remainer rebellion to scrape a victory by just six votes.
After Mr Lewis was shown to have participated in the votes, Ms Swinson accused the government of “desperate stuff”.
She wrote on Twitter: “This is calculated, deliberate breaking of trust by government whips to win at all costs.
“Brandon abstained in afternoon divisions, but voted in the two crunch votes after 6pm. There’s a word for it – cheating.”
Ms Swinson also called on MPs to end the “charade” and decide on proxy voting procedures next week.
Responding to the row, Mr Lewis told Ms Swinson: “I’m sorry Jo. I think it was an honest mistake made by the whips in fast-moving circumstances.
“I know how important the pair is to everyone, especially new parents, and I apologise. Also apologies for late reply, been speaking at an event.”
Ms Swinson responded by describing Mr Lewis’ explanation as “not credible”.
She replied: “Really? So what happened then? Take me through it.”
The government’s chief whip Julian Smith also offered an apology to Ms Swinson, insisting the Tories “consistently” offer pairs for pregnancy and Mr Lewis was “asked to vote in error”.
For previous Brexit votes on Monday night, Ms Swinson was paired with Tory digital minister Margot James, who attended the world premiere of the new Mamma Mia! film while she was not allowed to vote.
Commenting on the furore, Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary Dawn Butler attacked the “absolutely appalling” incident.
She posted on Twitter: “Parliament needs to be dragged into the 21st century and Brandon Lewis must personally apologise for his role in making politics even more inaccessible for new mums.”
There are currently no formal maternity or paternity arrangements in Parliament, with informal leave arranged at party level.
Senior Labour MP Harriet Harman is leading current efforts for MPs to be given six months’ maternity leave with provisions for colleagues to vote on their behalf during their absence.