And then there were 11. Stephen Lloyd, the Liberal Democrat MP for Eastbourne, has resigned his party whip in order to vote for Theresa May’s Brexit deal, citing “irreconcilable differences” with the party’s anti-Brexit stance.
Lloyd – who was re-elected with a slim majority of 1,609 last June having lost his seat in 2015 – made a manifesto pledge to respect the result of the EU referendum and vote for whatever deal the Prime Minister brought back, despite his vote to Remain and his party’s opposition to Brexit. Eastbourne voted to leave in 2016.
That stance had seen him come under intense pressure from the Liberal Democrat grassroots and broader continuity Remain movement in recent weeks, in a manner which Lloyd described as bullying. More than 70 party activists had demanded his suspension from the whip last month, and Labour peer Andrew Adonis visited Eastbourne to drum up opposition to the Brexit deal on Saturday.
Lloyd’s resignation, which he described as the “only honourable thing to do”, thus comes as no real surprise. “I have come to the conclusion that I cannot honestly uphold the commitment I made to Eastbourne and Willingdon two and a half years ago, and reiterated since – to accept the result of the referendum, vote for the deal the Prime Minister brought back from the EU and not back calls for a second referendum – while supporting the Lib Dem parliamentary party’s formal position of voting against Theresa May’s deal and advocating a ‘People’s Vote’,” he said.
He was not asked to resign, and a source close to Alistair Carmichael, the Lib Dem chief whip, said he had been a “bit unhappy with the idea” of removing the whip from Lloyd in the event of him defying the party line to vote for May’s deal, despite coming under pressure to do so from the membership. Other Liberal Democrats at Westminster, however, said they had expected Carmichael to act had he not resigned.
Lloyd’s decision to quit of his own accord takes the decision out of Carmichael’s hands. He said he was acutely aware of the potential for his stance to damage his own party and blunt its electoral appeal, and said he recognised the strain it had put on Vince Cable. Tolerating his opposition would have raised a simple and unarguable question for the Lib Dem leadership: what is the point of an anti-Brexit party whose MPs cannot be relied upon to oppose it in parliament?
Both sides, however, expect Lloyd to return to the fold in the near future – he remains a party member and departs on anything but bad terms. For all the amused talk of the Liberal Democrats having lost nearly ten per cent of their MPs in a day, there is every chance that this might eventually be seen as the sort of shrewd party management on Brexit that has often eluded Labour and the Conservatives.