Dr Phillip Lee | Ministerial Resignation Statement
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Ministerial Resignation Statement

Resigning as a minister from the Government is a very difficult decision because it goes against every grain in my soul. The very word resign conveys a sense of giving up, but that is the last thing I will do. I take public service seriously and responsibly. That is the spirit that has always guided me as a doctor and continues to guide me as a politician.

For me, resigning is a last resort – not something that I want to do but something I feel I must do because, for me, such a serious principle is being breached that I would find it hard to live with myself afterwards if I let it pass. I come to this decision after a great deal of personal reflection and discussion with family, friends and trusted colleagues.

The main reason for my taking this decision now is the Brexit process and the Government’s wish to limit Parliament’s role in contributing to the final outcome in a vote that takes place today.

If, in the future, I am to look my children in the eye and honestly say that I did my best for them I cannot, in all good conscience, support how our country’s exit from the EU looks set to be delivered.

As a Member of Parliament, I also have a major responsibility to my constituency of Bracknell. In extensive consultations with local employers, both large and small, I have been warned that they expect Brexit as it is currently being pursued, whatever the negotiated settlement, will damage their business. I have spoken to people, many of whom have lived, worked and raised their family here, whose fears for their futures I am not always able to allay. Regrettably, it seems inevitable that the people, economy and culture of my constituency will be affected negatively, and I cannot ignore that it is to them that I owe my first responsibility.

Sadly, from within government I have found it virtually impossible to help bring sufficient change to the course on which we are bound.

I voted to remain in the European Union and have not changed my view that continued membership would have been the better strategic course. Even so, I believe that it would be impossible and wrong to seek to go back to how things were before the referendum. We cannot and should not turn back the clock.

However, as the negotiations are unfolding, two things are becoming clear.

• The practicalities, logistics and implications of leaving the EU are far more complex than was ever envisaged and certainly more complex than the people were told in 2016. The UK is not going to be ready in time, neither is the EU, and both would suffer from a rushed or fudged agreement.

• The outcome that is emerging will be neither fully to leave the EU, nor fully to stay. This is not an outcome for which anyone knowingly voted. In my view, this raises the important principle of legitimacy: I do not believe it would be right for the Government to pursue such a course without a plan to seek a confirmatory mandate for the outcome. And I believe that Parliament should have the power to ask the Government to adjust its course in the best interests of the people whom its Members represent.

In my medical experience, if a course of treatment is not working, then I review it. I also have a duty to get my patient’s informed consent for that action.

If Brexit is worth doing, then it is certainly worth doing well; regardless of how long that takes. It is, however, irresponsible to proceed as we are, so we should:

• recognise that the UK and EU are not ready for Brexit and pause, extend or revoke Article 50 so that we do not leave before we are ready.

• re-engage with our European and international friends to talk about how to achieve the aims that we share for the future in ways that respect individual countries’ interests and sovereignty. Since 2016, electorates in many countries across Europe have expressed similar concerns to those that we expressed in the referendum and so much is changing, and will continue to change, across the whole of our continent.

• empower our Parliament so that its role is not limited to making fake choices – such as between a ‘bad deal’ and a cliff-edge ‘no deal’. Our Parliament should be able to direct our Government to change course in our interests. In all conscience, I cannot support the Government’s decision to oppose this amendment because doing so breaches such fundamental principles of human rights and Parliamentary sovereignty. A vote between bad and worse is not a meaningful vote. And I cannot bring myself to vote for it in the bastion of liberty, freedom and human rights that is our Parliament.

When the Government is able to set out an achievable, clearly defined path – one that has been properly considered, whose implications have been foreseen, and that is rooted in reality and evidence, not dreams and dogma – it should go to the people, once again, to seek their confirmation.

I will miss the Ministry of Justice and the enormous privilege of guiding our Government’s work to turn around the lives of vulnerable young offenders and female offenders; to mobilise the remarkable power of sport to transform lives and cut crime; and to improve how we deal with offenders’ health and mental health which drives so much human behaviour.

I have had the privilege to work with inspiring, dedicated people; to be touched by the appalling stories that some of those caught up in our criminal justice system have shared with me – both victims and offenders; and in a small way to bring some influence to bear to help make our society more just and more secure.

The experience has been deeply humbling. For the last two years, I have been completely committed to enabling our criminal justice system to serve our society better. There is so much more to do and I wish the department and its excellent ministerial team all the strength that they need to drive through the necessary reforms. I regret that I feel forced to leave and will remain a strong supporter.

I strongly supported Theresa May’s bid to lead the Conservative Party in 2016. I have great respect for her and still believe that she is the best person to lead the country at this exceptionally difficult time. But the fact is that we have to make many big changes for our country to have a positive future. There is a great deal of work to be done to lead with more strength, vision and integrity. We must be honest and open at all times with each other and with the public. We must renew our effort to bring the nation back together and proceed in our collective national interest, drawing on the best talent our country has to offer.

We must also have an eye beyond our shores, sustaining our European friendships through a difficult time because what is very clear is that, in our interconnected age, it is nations with allies that will thrive.

It is important that individual ministers and Parliamentarians should be able to influence and speak up on these issues. But effective Government in our country also relies on the important principle of collective responsibility. Resigning my post in this Government will allow me to work towards what I believe can be a better future, inside or outside the EU, for my children, my constituents and my country.

That will start today when MPs vote on the House of Lords’ amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill and I will support the amendment which – if it is adopted – will empower Parliament to reject a bad deal and direct the Government to re-enter discussions, extending or pausing negotiations which are being badly rushed because of the deadline that Article 50 imposes.

We will not change our country overnight – but we can and must hand our children a better legacy.

  • Jill Brian
    Posted at 16:56h, 12 June

    If all MPs behaved as honourably,, Parliament would be a better place..
    The younger people who voted to stay in the EU and the next generations deserve better. I think we should have another referendum to include those aged 16 and 17 years as they will be most affected by the mistaken Brexit decision and should be able to have a say in their future.

  • James Rands
    Posted at 16:58h, 12 June

    A remarkably clear, concise and thoughtful set of comments on this shambles made all the more significant by the moral courage required to write it.

  • Ray Caradine
    Posted at 16:58h, 12 June

    . A disenfranchised in limbo UK citizen who works in EU and will lose my ability to support my family in 2019. – congratulations on staying true to your principles, i wish more would follow your lead

  • Justice Minister Phillip Lee Resigns At Human Rights Talk Over Brexit
    Posted at 17:00h, 12 June

    […] Speaking at the Bright Blue annual conference, which looks at how Conservatism can support human rights, the MP shocked colleagues by resigning over the Government’s Brexit policy. […]

  • Richard Jones
    Posted at 17:04h, 12 June

    Eloquently put, I liked the patient-doctor analogy, which made much sense.
    Let us hope someone is listening to you.

  • Martin Waddington
    Posted at 17:05h, 12 June

    Congratulations, Dr. Lee, and my sincerest compliments for the thoughtful and principled stand you have taken.

  • Shabana Khanom
    Posted at 17:12h, 12 June

    If no one listen and you feel you are right then walk alone.Bravo man.

  • Chris Ives
    Posted at 17:24h, 12 June

    I have not voted Conservative since 1970, but if there were a General Election now I would vote for Philip Lee. He has shown courage on a matter of principle.

  • Belinda Pierce
    Posted at 17:53h, 12 June

    Thank you Dr Lee for taking such a principled stand. Agree with your statement completely and I hope that you have given courage to others.

  • Richard Gilbert
    Posted at 17:56h, 12 June

    Well done. Honest, principled and able to look yourself in the shaving mirror tomorrow – how many will follow. I fear not enough

  • (dr) Aroup Chatterjee
    Posted at 18:03h, 12 June

    well done and Thanks a lot!

  • Anne Dickinson
    Posted at 18:04h, 12 June

    GOOD MAN!!
    We need more of you and more like you.

    It is patently ***** obvious that Brexit = ruination.

    So why does conscience no longer have a place?


    I am 60, (just! and firmly NOT a Brexiteer) but I would happily advocate that the old CANNOT hold the young hostage.

    I personally would be happy if after 66 (retirement age) I got 2/3 of a vote and after age 76 1/3 of a vote.

    What will lead our young people FORWARD must be what counts. (from a childless world wandering backpacker – I have no kids to influence me and would love my entire vote but NOT ever if it leads to this sort of fiasco). We must look FORWARD and not BACKWARDS to some imagined glorious era whilst the rest of the world moves forward. What was relevant in the 1940S 1950s 1960s etc has no place in our current trajectory. We were colonial and we were post war. We are not now!
    We are a diverse multicultural country and our diversity has been our great strength.

    THANK YOU again. I am desparate for this stupidity to end.

  • Will
    Posted at 18:26h, 12 June

    Well done Dr Lee – what a courageous decision. History will prove your diagnosis as correct!

  • Paul Keen
    Posted at 18:39h, 12 June

    In view of your abstention, I take back what I wrote earlier. Shame on you.

  • Philip Kinzett-Evans
    Posted at 18:57h, 12 June

    I do not agree entirely with your synopsis, or share your pessimistic view, but I do respect you have the bravery to stand by your own principles and act on them accordingly. Nobody need do any more than that. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and should be respected equally whatever it may be.

  • Melanie Kettle
    Posted at 18:59h, 12 June

    I really respect what you have done today. It must have been a very tough decision. But thank you for standing by your principles and for caring about future generations. I only wish more conservative MPS could be so brave. Thank you

  • Michael G
    Posted at 19:07h, 12 June

    Well done Phillip. This is what I expect from my MP.

  • Arthur Rogers
    Posted at 19:12h, 12 June

    Dr Lee, I applaud and salute you sir; it takes a lot of soul searching and courage to do what you have done! I am a strong remainer, I do believe with al that has come about we should indeed ‘stop the clock’! I respect all those that chose to Leave, but am nevertheless, having spent 46 years of my life in Europe in Peace & harmony with my Continental friend & neighbours of the opinion that we should stay in the EU. But in order to re unite our Country I believe you have in your statement given us all a guide and shining light to follow! Thank you for your steadfastness and integrity!

  • Nicola York
    Posted at 19:44h, 12 June

    Thank you for taking a stand, and for being so honest and forthright, on behalf of your constituents as well as your own beliefs. I completely agree with your sentiments and an only hope that your stance will pave the way for further MPs to take action.

    As a remainer myself, I fear for the impact a messy Brexit could have for my children. I hope that more voices will join your cause, in order to enable the voices and opinions of many people be heard by those who are negotiating the future of our country. If Brexit is going to happen, let’s make it as smooth as possible by having circumstances dictate the timescales, rather than the reverse!

  • Andrew Lea
    Posted at 20:12h, 12 June

    Sir, I salute you for putting your country before party.

  • M. Blake
    Posted at 21:09h, 12 June

    Yes, so refreshing to see a politician acting on principle in this mess that is Brexit. Thank you. Now just encourage a few more of your colleagues to show your same courage and conviction?

  • John Fox
    Posted at 21:11h, 12 June

    Well done for demonstrating some integrity.

    It has been a bleak couple of years for those of us who feel confident and secure in our ‘Britishness’ whilst also wanting to maintain the closest of friendship and co-operation with our neighbours in Ireland and mainland Europe. The disgraceful and damaging anti EU rhetoric from some of your erstwhile Government colleagues is not a reflection of how most British people feel, yet their shouty bullying style has overshadowed sensible and measured discussion by people like you.

    I hope you few ‘sensibles’ on the Tory benches have not been conned, although the noises from DExEU are suggesting you may have been. I guess we shall find out in the next few days.

  • Aiden Wrenn
    Posted at 21:33h, 12 June

    Well done sir, you did right to resign. They’d probably have sacked you anyway when they realised you have a backbone.

  • Christine Weightman
    Posted at 21:53h, 12 June

    Not your constituent I wish I was. Congratulations for your very sensible statement.

  • Stephen Bramhall
    Posted at 21:54h, 12 June

    An inspiring moral stance Dr Lee – thank you

  • Marcel Thompson
    Posted at 22:17h, 12 June

    I commend you on taking a principled approach against this dreadful direction Brexit is heading towards. I will always fight against this divisive, regressive and frankly ridiculous decision by so many misinformed individuals. Simply unbelievable how many are ignorant of the basic economic arguments and direct impacts. Why are people so keen to destroy business, research and defence relationships that have served us so well for decades?

  • Mark Palmer
    Posted at 23:04h, 12 June

    Congratulations: putting your country and our children’s future before party dogma and your career. Well done!

  • Stephen Ashworth
    Posted at 23:12h, 12 June

    “The outcome that is emerging will be neither fully to leave the EU, nor fully to stay. This is not an outcome for which anyone knowingly voted.” – True, but it would be an outcome which reflects the overall 2016 referendum result, in which the country as a whole voted basically half in, half out.

  • Nordine SAIDI
    Posted at 00:14h, 13 June

    Giving the parliament the right to veto Brexit is like overturning indirectly the will of the people. The Lords’ proposal is just crazy. The EU mechanism is not working!

  • JBenson
    Posted at 06:44h, 13 June

    Thank you for having the courage in your convictions. Country, Constituents and then Party… to vote for the favour of these in any alternative order is detrimental to democracy.

  • C. Lockyear
    Posted at 07:54h, 13 June

    I am not your constituent, which is a pity, as you are clearly a man of principle and honour who wants to do the best for the country. It took real courage to do what you did, especially in the current times when anyone who stands up is threatened. Thank you for your actions and bravery, you have my huge respect. The very best luck for the future.

  • Simon Grainger
    Posted at 08:48h, 13 June

    Thank you Dr Lee for standing up for what you think is in the best interest of your country. The decision to leave the EU is a generational change that cannot be undone at the next general election. I hope you have made other MPs consider their position and not just follow party lines.

  • Anne St Ives
    Posted at 08:50h, 13 June

    Thank you for being true to yourself,your family,your constituents and your country. We need more MPs to speak and act on the truth,which is clear to any thinking person.

  • William Garrett
    Posted at 19:34h, 15 June

    I am not a natural tory voter however Mr Lee has earned my respect for his recent resignation and stand against the stupidity that is Brexit

  • Sophia Drossopoulou
    Posted at 18:47h, 21 June

    Thank you for your honourable behaviour. I .As you say, in all walks of life, if a course of treatment is not working, then one reviews it. But some people think that Brexit is an exception.

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