Leaked text sparks call for Penrose to quit cabinet after less than a week

Weston MP John Penrose.

Weston MP John Penrose. - Credit: Archant

Weston-super-Mare MP John Penrose has landed a prestigious role in Theresa May’s Government, but within days of taking the post he may have also landed himself in hot water.

The new Northern Ireland minister was appointed by the Prime Minister on Friday after her controversial Brexit deal proposal saw several cabinet members resign.

But a leaked WhatsApp message sent by Mr Penrose to Tory colleagues hours before his appointment – in which he declared Mrs May’s deal ‘dead’ – have prompted calls from the opposition for him to resign.

Weston’s MP is set to play an influential role in negotiations as Britain leaves the European Union (EU), with the future of the Irish border proving one of the most difficult obstacles.

But his leaked text, which was sent after Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab quit on November 15 and later published by Buzzfeed News, signals a difficult return to the top table for the former minister for constitutional reform.

In his message, he encouraged Conservative colleagues not to back a vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister because she would ‘probably win’, and instead suggested they back her to pursue a ‘better’ Brexit.

He added: “With Dominic going the deal is dead so we have our best short-term opportunity to push her towards something better, providing we focus on it rather than on leadership.”

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The unwritten parliamentary convention of collective ministerial responsibility demands they publicly support Government policy or resign, and Labour’s shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman believes Mr Penrose should ‘seriously consider his position’.

She said: “He can’t honestly defend Theresa May’s bad Brexit deal now unless he is doing so for the sake of a ministerial car.”

Mr Penrose told the Mercury: “The WhatsApp message was urging Conservative MPs not to undermine the PM in the middle of EU negotiations because it wouldn’t be right for the country.

“I hope local residents would agree that’s the right thing to do.”

In his Mercury column, which can be read in tomorrow’s (Thursday) paper, the MP said he ‘could hardly say no’ when the PM called.

He added: “It’s a chance to make a difference and, in the end, that’s why I got into politics in the first place.”