Full text of Phillip Lee statement on his resignation
‘Within government I have found it virtually impossible to help bring sufficient change’
Bracknell MP Dr Phillip Lee who has resigned as a justice minister. Photograph: PA
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.
o 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.
o 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:
o 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.
o 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.
o 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.