DAME Caroline Spelman will quit as Meriden MP before the next election after rebelling against the government to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
The ex-cabinet minister and Conservative Party chairman – who has represented Meriden since 1997 – announced she will retire last night (September 4).
In a surprise turn of events, Dame Caroline – who has long campaigned to avoid ‘no deal’ – was the only MP to vote differently yesterday to a similarly crucial vote on Tuesday night.
On Tuesday, she voted with the government to prevent MPs taking control of Parliamentary business to enable Wednesday’s vote.
But yesterday she voted for a bill to delay Brexit until January, against the government’s position.
The bill would also prevent the UK leaving the EU without a deal unless a withdrawal agreement is secured – or ‘no deal’ is approved in Parliament.
She was not suspended from the party along with the other 21 Tory rebels who were dismissed the day before for how they voted on Tuesday night.
Sources say that was because the second vote was not considered a ‘confidence vote’ in the government by Number 10.
But later last night she announced she would step down in what she told the Solihull Observer was a ‘personal decision’.
Dame Caroline said: “It has been a real privilege to serve the constituency over the last 22 years, but the time has come for a new person to represent the interests of Meriden in a new Parliament which will continue to be dominated by the consequences of Brexit.
“Brexit is only partly about a date; it is more of a process of withdrawal, negotiation and then reconciliation of the social divisions it has caused which may take years to heal.
“Withdrawal is not a destination but one step on the journey.
“Now is the time to stand back and let a new Conservative candidate take this process forward.
“I have done all I can to protect the jobs and interests of my constituents throughout my time as an MP.
“It has been a privilege to see lives changed and helped by new employment and regeneration.”
On the back of Tuesday’s Commons defeat, the government lodged a motion to trigger a snap general election, which was also defeated in Parliament after failing to get the backing of the required two-thirds of MPs.
Mr Johnson has pledged to leave the EU without a deal by October 31, if necessary – but claims his first priority is to secure a withdrawal agreement with Brussels.
Chairman of the Meriden Conservative Association, Ian Courts, said: “Caroline has been a dedicated and highly committed MP who has gone the extra mile in serving her constituents.
“She has increased her majority in each of the last six elections which is testimony to her hard work representing the interests of Meriden and supporting the local community.”
Dame Caroline has become a central figure in the push to avoid a ‘no deal’.
She formed an unlikely partnership earlier this year with Labour MP for Erdington Jack Dromey in an attempt to block any no-deal Brexit, when their non-binding Commons amendment was supported in a vote of MPs.
In the referendum, 56 per cent of constituents from Solihull – which includes Meriden – voted to Leave the EU.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Whelby tweeted: “Dame Caroline Spelman has been an extraordinary public servant for many years.
“She has shown huge commitment to the vibrancy of the Church and wider civil society.
“In following Jesus’ example of servant leadership, she has shown integrity, wisdom and humility.”
Solihull MP Julian Knight tweeted: “I have written to my borough neighbour Caroline Spelman to express my gratitude for all the help she has given me since I became a candidate in 2013 and to pay tribute to all her hard work for the people of Meriden and of course the party. #dontmakethemlikethatanymore”
Lib Dem councillor and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Ade Adeyemo said: “Just a few days ago, I wrote about “my utmost respect” for Dame Caroline Spelman and her principled stance against a No-Deal Brexit that would be disastrous for local jobs and businesses in the West Midlands.
“Before voting with the government on Tuesday, the Meriden MP said, in a video posted by Solihull Borough Conservatives on Twitter, ‘I fully support Boris Johnson as our Prime Minister and I would not in any circumstances bring down a Conservative government led by him.’
“Yet, 24 hours later, she was back voting with the rebels against Boris Johnson’s government. Clearly, Dame Caroline’s conscience couldn’t allow her to continue supporting this Conservative government.
“Ultimately, Dame Caroline Spelman’s stance over a no-deal Brexit was incompatible with a Boris Johnson-led Conservative Party that does not care about local people and local jobs in the West Midlands.
“I have always admired Dame Caroline Spelman. She is a good constituency MP who has always put her constituents and our borough at the heart of her work.
“The truth is, Caroline Spelman has been badly treated – initially by the Solihull Borough Conservatives, who threatened to deselect her, and latterly, by the increasingly nasty national Conservative Party.”