MP Sarah resigns from Tory Party

Friday 22nd February 2019 9:02 am
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MP Sarah Wollaston with Devon for Europe People's Vote campaigners ()

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South Hams MP Dr Sarah Wollaston has resigned from the party, saying it has moved too far to the right.

She said: “This is not a decision I have taken lightly but I no longer feel that the Conservatives are the same party that I joined a decade ago.

“I can no longer continue as a member of a party which, in Government, is making poor decisions that will hit the communities I represent and set back the prospects for ending austerity.”

In recent months, Dr Wollaston has been increasingly at odds with the right-wing of her party, in particular the European Research Group, headed by Jacob Rees-Mogg, over its direction of travel with regard to Brexit.

Locally, she has faced a campaign by elements of the Totnes constituency association to deselect her ahead of the next general election.

A letter, organised by Brexit campaign group Leave.EU and local party activists, was presented to John Smith, chairman of Totnes Conservative Association, on Monday. More than 50 members of the local party were calling for a special general meeting to remove her.

The letter accused Dr Wollaston of “seeking to undermine” her own Government’s negotiating position with the EU since the referendum result two years ago.

It also accused her of supporting those who “wish to do harm to this country” and going back on the “clear and unambiguous Conservative manifesto pledge to leave the EU”, which it says was the “manifesto upon which she was elected”.

James Heaven, of Sandhills Road, Salcombe, and Ian Phillips, of Moreleigh Road, Harbertonford, had both signed the letter.

In it they said: “She has also threatened to resign the whip; threatened to stand as an independent; threatened to leave the party unless she gets the leader she wants; and begged the leader of the opposition to support a People’s Vote, which disrespects the result of the 2016 EU referendum.

“It is no wonder that having torched her political capital within her own party, she failed to get the support needed to secure the future of our Dartmouth [and Kingswear] Hospital.

“Only a new candidate can hope to heal the divisions within our association that Sarah has carelessly placed on the front line of a personal crusade, which bears no semblance to her mandate.

“The time has come for us to select a new representative whom we can all have confidence in for the future. Therefore, we respectfully submit signed petition forms from 50 members of our local Conservative Party, under association rule 10.1.2, in order to trigger a special general meeting calling for a vote of no confidence in Sarah Wollaston.”

On Facebook at the weekend, Dr Wollaston claimed: “#BLUKIP has been busy taking over the Tory Party alongside the ERG. Soon there will be nothing left at all to appeal to moderate centre ground voters.”

But Mr Heaven hit back, saying: “Sarah, I am one of your local Conservative members who signed the deselection petition, and I can assure you that the group of 50 are simply loyal moderate Conservatives. “You will find, if you turn up to the SGM, the same good people who have walked the streets for you, and pushed the manifesto that you were voted in on.

“Leaving Europe is not owned by the right or the left, it is a promise you made to the country. If you have changed your mind, resign with some dignity, rather than attack the good people that supported you. It is you that has changed in the extreme, not them.”

However, we can reveal that Mr Heaven’s co-signatory to the letter, Mr Phillips, was involved with UKIP less than two years ago.

At the June 2017 general election, Mr Phillips nominated then Totnes UKIP candidate Steven James Harvey. At the 2016 EU referendum, Mr Phillips also campaigned for Brexit on behalf of UKIP.

This week Mr Phillips agreed he only joined the Conservative Party during the past 12 months – and that part of the reason he joined was to deselect Dr Wollaston.

Leave.EU tweeted ahead of the letter being submitted: “Our deselection campaign is bearing fruit with three of the worst Remoaners in parliament facing deselection [thought to refer to Anna Soubry, Nick Boles and Heidi Allen] – and

@sarahwollaston will be joining them shortly!

“Help us keep up the pressure and support our work.”

Dr Wollaston said on social media that former UKIP members had “been busy” taking over the Conservatives, alongside Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group.

And she complained over the weekend via Twitter that the “Tory leadership has taken zero interest in this blatant entryism and will only wake up to the reality of the ‘purple momentum’ destroying their party when it’s too late.”

Leave.EU admitted trying to influence local parties when it tweeted on Sunday: “Last year we encouraged our supporters to join the Tories and bring about real change.”

Constituency association chairman John Smith this week confirmed receipt of the letter and petition.

Following the letter going in to Mr Smith, Leave.EU was predicting on Twitter that “Tory Remoaners under pressure in their constituencies thanks to our deselection campaign are poised to jump before they’re pushed and unite with Labour’s People’s Vote brigade. Good riddance!”

In another tweet, the pro-Brexit group’s co-founder, Arron Banks, said: “Stop Brexit and we will do everything to stop you, now or at the next general election.”

Leave.EU campaigned against Britain remaining in the EU in the 2016 referendum and was subsequently fined by the Electoral Commission.

The Electoral Commission fined the group £70,000 for offences committed under electoral law, after it investigated the campaign’s funding and spending during the referendum.

The commission also referred Leave.EU’s chief executive Liz Bilney to the Metropolitan Police, saying it had reasonable grounds to suspect she had committed criminal offences.

Dr Sarah Wollaston was the first person to be selected as the parliamentary candidate for a major British political party through a postal open primary – in which non-members would have a vote.

Formerly a GP, Dr Wollaston stopped practising when she won the seat at the 2010 general election. She initially supported the Vote Leave campaign during the 2016 EU referendum.

However, two weeks before the referendum, she announced that she was changing sides to campaign for Britain to remain in the EU – Conservative Party policy at the time – suggesting leaving would harm the UK’s economy.

Dr Wollaston also claimed Vote Leave’s declaration that leaving the EU would free up £350m per week for the NHS “simply isn’t true” and represented “post-truth politics”.

Later she would call for People’s Vote, saying: “I hope the PM will take her deal to the people with a simple question about whether they wish to proceed on these terms or stick with the deal we already have.”

Mr Smith said after Dr Wollaston announced she was leaving the party: “We are saddened that Sarah Wollaston has come to this decision. It is a matter of regret that she has not been able to reconcile her views on Brexit with Conservative Party policy to deliver on the result of the referendum.”

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