19 Oct, 2017
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May © Reuters
Veteran MP Sir Edward Leigh told MPs in the House of Commons: “Frankly, the road to tyranny is paved by executives ignoring parliaments.”
The controversy was sparked on Wednesday evening, after the government imposed a ‘three-line whip’ on its MPs, obligating them to abstain in Labour’s motion calling for a pause in the rollout of universal credit.
Labour’s opposition day motion was passed 299 votes to 0, after all but one Tory MP, Totnes representative Sarah Wollaston, abstained. Earlier in the day, it was reported that several dozen Conservative MPs were thinking of voting with the opposition.
In an impassioned Commons speech that proved popular among Labour MPs, Leigh said: “Parliament does matter, because if we as Conservatives live by the sword now, our Conservative values in the future might die by the sword.”
“It may be in the future that there is a minority Labour government. They may produce policies which we think are deeply contrary to our personal liberties. We may muster a majority in Parliament against it,” he added.
“What happens then if a future Labour government says, ‘I’m sorry; you set the precedent. This is only an expression of opinion. We are going to ignore Parliament’?”
While being heckled with cries of “disgrace,” house leader Leadsom defended the decision to impose the abstention, noting that the government was not bound by the vote.
Shadow leader of the Commons Valerie Vaz said the abstention was “disrespectful to the House.”
“This is where we make the law. This is not a school debating chamber.”
On the universal credit resolution, Vaz said: “I know the government didn’t want to hear about people in rent arrears struggling to feed their families when they’re in work, but that’s the reality when government policy is failing.”
Tory MP and staunch Brexiteer Peter Bone echoed the sentiments.
“We cannot ignore the will of the House,” he said, arguing that ministers should be compelled to deliver a statement to Parliament within 12 weeks of a resolution similar to Wednesday’s.
While it is rare for governments not to vote down opposition day motions, the minority Tory administration has done so on a number of occasions since June’s election, avoiding any potential rebellions that could threaten the May government.