Science and universities minister, Sam Gyimah, has resigned over the prime minister’s proposed Brexit plan and come out in support of a second referendum.
His resignation on Friday, 30 November made him the tenth minister to quit Theresa May’s government since July, and comes just days before the Prime Minister will try to pass her Brexit deal through Parliament on 11 December.
Mr Gyimah, who voted to remain in the European Union (EU) in the 2016 referendum, said the deal on offer would mean the UK lost its voice in the EU, while still having to abide by the bloc’s rules.
“In these protracted negotiations, our interests will be repeatedly and permanently hammered by the EU27 for many years to come. Britain will end up worse off, transformed from rule makers into rule takers,” he wrote in an article for The Daily Telegraph.
“It has become increasingly clear to me that the proposed deal is not in the British national interest, and that to vote for this deal is to set ourselves up for failure. We will be losing, not taking control of our national destiny.
“All of this points to an off-the-shelf deal dictated by the EU that will be materially worse for my constituents in East Surrey than staying in.”
In a statement on Facebook on Friday he also wrote: “There are alternatives that we have ruled out through our own red lines that need to be considered seriously. Even if this means extending the Article 50 deadline.”
It has become increasingly clear to me that the proposed deal is not in the British national interest
– Sam Gyimah
However, he added that “the grit and determination demonstrated by the Prime Minister should be an inspiration to us all” and he is “saddened, as an early and vocal backer of her leadership, to have reached a cross-roads where I cannot support her on this crucial issue.”
At the top of his list of concerns with the deal was the protracted negotiations over Galileo, the EU’s strategic satellite navigation system. The government has said UK defence and security services would no longer participate after Brexit and it emerged on Friday that the country may never get back £1.2bn it had already invested.
“Galileo is only a foretaste of what’s to come under the government’s Brexit deal,” he wrote.
On the morning of 1 December, Mr Gyimah voiced his support of a second referendum as one way to avert “chaos”.
“There is a blocking minority in the House of Commons for almost every possible option which means that letting the people decide, now that we know more, might be the most sensible path for both leavers and remainers,” Gyimah told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“If you are going to appeal to the country to put pressure on MPs to vote for a deal, then by all means you can give the decision to the country in terms of which direction we go in. If parliament was in deadlock, Theresa May could get herself out of that deadlock by backing a second referendum.”
The 42-year-old former minister described the negotiations as being like a football match in which the opposition “are the referee and they can make up the rules as they go along”.
If parliament was in deadlock, Theresa May could get herself out of that deadlock by backing a second referendum
– Sam Gyimah
He added: “We all know more about the EU than we did during the first referendum and in particular the terms of our departure. I am happy to concede if we have a second referendum and if leave wins, at least we would do it with our eyes wide open.”
A number of Tory remainers have come out in support of the East Surrey MP’s resignation.
Jo Johnson, the former rail minister who quit his job in a similar fashion earlier this month, said Gyimah’s resignation was “strong and principled” and welcomed his openness to “giving the public the final say”.
Justine Greening, the former education secretary and notable supporter of the People’s Vote campaign said: “Like many MPs he has recognised the huge shortcomings of the prime minister’s deal and the need to find an alternative path forward for Britain.”
However, the culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, said he was sad to see Gyimah leave the government over Brexit and said that while the deal with the EU wasn’t perfect he believed it was the best one available.
“All of my colleagues are going to have to make their own judgment about what they think about this deal,” he told the Today programme.
“The negotiation we have had with the European Union was always going to be a matter of compromise for both sides. You do have to compare this deal with the realistically available alternatives.”
Whilst we welcome the fact that Sam Gyimah agrees with us that Brexit looks to deliver a bad deal for students, we hope he will do everything in his power to secure a Peoples’ Vote
– National Union of Students
The National Union of Students (NUS) also released a statement over Gyimah’s resignation saying: “Whilst we welcome the fact that Sam Gyimah agrees with us that Brexit looks to deliver a bad deal for students, we hope he will do everything in his power to secure a Peoples’ Vote.”
NUS President Shakira Martin said: “A bad Brexit deal will be of significant detriment to the lives of many, as evidenced by various Brexit impact reports.
“The resignation of the Universities and Science Minister, Sam Gyimah MP, the 18th Minister to resign from the government over the proposed Brexit deal, shows that if the government wants to preserve the integrity of our world-leading education sector, it should start by listening to the generation most affected. Give us the People’s Vote.”
Amatey Doku, Vice President for Higher Education at the NUS tweeted: “Really pleased that the HE minister has finally listened to the voices of students through @nusuk and put the government over Theresa May’s botched Brexit deal!”
He added: “I look forward to helping the next minister with their resignation.”