Chief Whip Julian Smith cannot keep his job, say Tory MPs

Theresa May says she has confidence in Tory Chief Whip Julian Lewis. Credit: PA

I’ve been banging on all day on Twitter about how the Tory Chief Whip Julian Smith systematically tried to break one-off pairs for those big votes on the trade bill which - if they had gone against the Government - could have precipitated a General Election.

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A “pair” is an arrangement made by a whip of one party to match an incapacitated MP from his or her party with an MP from an opposing party, so that neither of those MPs walk through the lobbies, and the outcome of the vote is not distorted.

After giving birth three weeks ago, Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson was on maternity leave and so did not attend the vote. Credit: PA

The big point is that the arrangement is based totally on cross-party trust.

So the whole system collapses if the whip of one party unilaterally tries to renege on pairing deals, as Tory officials conceded to me was what Smith attempted (though weirdly he didn’t properly succeed, because anxious Tory MPs - with the exception, oddly, of the Conservative Chair Brandon Lewis - followed the contrary advice of the more junior pairing whip).

Brandon Lewis ignored his pairing and voted. Credit: PA

That is why Tory MPs have been banging on at me all day that Smith simply cannot keep his job, because they don’t believe Labour or the Lib Dems will ever do a pairing deal with him again.

And that will make the lives of Tory MPs, with so many vital votes coming up in the autumn, a total misery.

The paradox therefore is that in desperately and frantically trying to secure a life-or-death victory for his boss, Smith has made it impossible for the PM to retain his services.

Or rather that is what Tory MPs and ministers are telling me - even though the PM continues to say she has confidence in him. For now.