Nick Boles, the MP for Grantham and Stamford, has resigned the Conservative whip on the floor of the House of Commons after MPs rejected his proposal for a Norway-style Brexit.
After the Commons voted 282 to 261 to reject his Common Market 2.0 plan for EEA membership and a customs union in the latest round of indicative ballots, an audibly emotional Boles told MPs: “I have given everything to an attempt to find a compromise that can take this country out of the European Union while maintaining our economic strength and our political cohesion.
“I accept that I have failed. I have failed chiefly because my party refuses to compromise. I regret therefore to announce I can no longer sit for this party.”
To gasps and applause from colleagues – and a plaintive cry of “Oh Nick, don’t go, come on,” from Tory MP Huw Merriman – the former minister then left the Commons chamber, followed by Labour’s Jess Phillips. Boles now intends to sit as an “independent progressive conservative”.
Only 33 Tory MPs, including two ministers, voted for Boles’ plan, which Labour MPs were whipped to support. Tensions between Boles and ministers were made clear in a testy tweet over the weekend in which he had criticised Julian Smith, the government Chief Whip, for discouraging Conservative members from voting with him.
“My party refuses to compromise, I regret therefore that I can no longer sit for this party” – emotional Conservative MP Nick Boles quits party whip after #indicativevotes2 and is applauded in Commons
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) April 1, 2019
Boles’ resignation from the whip follows his decision to quit his constituency party, who appeared set to deselect him after a protracted dispute over Brexit and other issues, earlier this month. He had brokered a compromise with Smith that allowed him to sit as a Conservative despite quitting his local association.
That he has now taken the nuclear option of withdrawing from the parliamentary Conservative Party entirely reflects the extent to which Tory MPs believe Downing Street has badly mismanaged attempts to seek compromise. His departure is the second from a Cameron-era minister in recent months – after that of Anna Soubry – and is a mark of how Brexit has alienated modernising Tories.
No 10’s attempts to crush all other alternatives ahead of a fourth meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement could yet see others follow Boles, a close ally of Michael Gove. Asked whether he would take the same course of action in the wake of the resignation, Alistair Burt, the former Foreign Office minister who quit the government last week, said: “I don’t know.”