23 November 2018
Commons Diary: Shailesh Vara

It’s Wednesday and I have been considering what to do about the draft Withdrawal Agreement for some time now. Although it has not yet been made public, the rumours are that the UK will be locked into an EU Customs Arrangement with no say on the rules that will govern it and there will be no definite end date. Nor a provision for the UK to unilaterally leave the customs arrangement. Moreover, Northern Ireland will have greater alignment with Ireland than the rest of the UK, effectively compromising our constitutional and economic integrity. If that is true, then I will not be able to support it, which obviously means resigning as a minister in the Northern Ireland Office.

I am however keen to see the Draft Agreement before deciding as I remain hopeful that my apprehensions may be eased.


Reading the agreement into the early hours of Thursday morning, with the help of lots of black coffee, I conclude that my concerns have not been addressed.

I have been a Member of Parliament for over 13 years, fought six general elections and been loyal to the Conservative party throughout. My decision is not easy, but I have made up my mind. I see no point in delaying the inevitable. Just before 07.30, I submit my resignation – the first Minister to do so following the release of the draft agreement. I then tweet a copy of my letter of resignation. Within minutes my phone is ringing, and I am on the Today programme just after 08.00 explaining my position.

The Prime Minister is making a statement at 10.30 in the Commons. I enter the Chamber and stand at its entrance along with several other MPs. Colleagues across the party divide with different views on Brexit greet me warmly; people recognise that resigning isn’t easy.

I listen to the Prime Minister and Jeremy Corbyn and return to my office. There are endless media requests and I organise my diary for the day – one interview after another, shuttling between Central Lobby, College Green and Millbank.


Friday is an early start. I’m on College Green at 06:00 and it’s near freezing temperatures as I do more interviews. The producers are well stocked with warm drinks and kindly offer me some too. With interviews completed by 08.30, life begins to return to normal and I turn my attention to constituency matters.

I am interrupted during the day by a phone call from the Northern Ireland Office. There is sadness on both sides and then “err, can we please have back your departmental pass, phone and iPad”. “Of course,” I say, and we make arrangements for their pick up.


The weekend is a mixture of constituency matters, media and a little catching up on sleep. I reply to the many friends and colleagues who have contacted me following my resignation, as well as to constituents and the general public of whom the overwhelming majority are supportive of my decision.


In the Commons on Monday there is an Urgent Question on the demise of Johnston Press who own the Peterborough Telegraph in my constituency. I ask my good friend Jeremy Wright, the Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for an assurance that in the event of there being redundancies, the new owners of the Peterborough Telegraph be asked to provide more than just the minimum statutory help to those affected.  

The political debate continues to be dominated by Brexit but there is also discussion about a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister. I make clear that my concern is not with the individual but with the agreement that I am being asked to vote on. I cannot support an agreement that I do not believe is in the national interest and would deny the UK freedom from the shackles of the EU and prevent us from pursuing our destiny as a sovereign nation.